In his senior season, Aaron Donald became one of the most heralded and dominant defensive lineman in recent history. He won the Outland Trophy, the Bronco Nagursky Trophy, the Lombardi Award, and the Chuck Bednarik Award. He was also named as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, but may be the most under-appreciated NFL prospect on the draft board.
Donald is measured between 6'0"-6'1" (although he will tell you that he is 6'1") and 288 lbs. His NFL comparison would be a lighter and a little less athletic version of Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions. Their game is very similar. In 2009, Suh had 12 sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss, and 52 tackles. In 2013, Donald had 11 sacks, 28.5 tackles for loss, and 43 tackles.
The biggest question for Donald going into the draft has been 'his size', although at the collegiate level, he handled and dominated offensive lineman much bigger than him. He has played multiple positions and in multiple schemes throughout his career, whether it be as a front in a 4-3 alignment or as a defensive end in a 3-4 alignment. He continued to display the ability to beat double teams and find his way to the QB using his great leverage, underrated strength, and excellent hand technique as evidenced by his outstanding play at the Senior Bowl. Donald's elusive use of hands help him keep offensive lineman off of him. Although he has shorter arms than most defensive lineman and an under-sized pass rusher, he is still quite effective. When contained, his short arms do limit his effectiveness in the passing game as well as the running game in fighting off blocks.
Donald excels in the areas of agility and athleticism, quickness, and strength. He can cover sideline to sideline chasing down ball carriers with linebacker-type speed. He has a great first step and jump off the snap like firing out of a cannon, which immediately puts offensive lineman on their heels. Donald is tenacious with his bull rush, forceful swim move, and outstanding leverage and constant leg movement creating brute force.
This year's NFL draft is not deep and loaded with defensive lineman as in years past, which puts Aaron Donald in a favorable position come draft day. With no clear cut #1 and only a few other defensive tackles in his league, he projects well. Aaron Donald could easily slip into the mid-first to early second round to a team with defensive lineman and pass rushing needs. Teams like the Giants at 15, Cowboys at 17, and the Broncos and Seahawks at 31 are good possibilities for this productive and fundamentally sound player.