Aaron Donald finishes his senior season as the most decorated interior lineman in the 2014 NFL Draft, winning the Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award, Nagurski Award, and the Bednarik Award. He was also among the nations most productive defensive players despite his size (6'0", 284 lbs) as he produced 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for a loss.
Where Aaron Donald Wins
Donald lacks ideal size and athleticism, so he makes up for it with terrific pass rush technique. He demonstrates several pass rush moves and is especially effective when setting up blockers inside with quickness, then using a swim move to their outside shoulder to shed the block. He has quick hands to get off blocks and does a very good job of landing his punch into a blockers chest on bullrushes.
Donald also does a great job reading blocks and offensive tendencies as the game goes along. He fires out with his hands to create space, then reads the block and shoots gaps. He was especially effective against zone stretch plays, where he uses the sliver of space between the tackle and guard to get into the backfield and reroute the running back.
Donald also understands his limitations and where he "wins." He knows he lacks size so he is a master of leverage, getting under lineman's almost instantly on contact. Donald normally does a good job of getting skinny through gaps to work through the offensive line, and has good flexibility to shed and redirect.
Where Aaron Donald needs to improve
Donald can win one-on-one opportunities in the run game, while not consistent at it, with leverage and body positioning, but he is not as impressive vs double teams and down blocks. I am not sold that he is scheme versatile or even ready to take on three-down responsibilities, and I think he needs to add some lower body strength.
Donald also lacks ideal athleticism from the 3-technique position for me. He has good short area quickness, and knows how to anticipate the snap to shoot gaps, but his first step is just okay and he leaves too many plays on the field. I do not mean that as a motor issue, but as an issue with his suddenness and closing speed. Too many times quarterbacks and running backs were able to slip out of his grasp or he was simply ran by through the gap because he could not close.
While he demonstrates okay strength at the point of attack, he could certainly improve here as well. He lacks great leg drive on his bull rushes and his initial punches when taking on blocks does not really make much impact at all. Too many times he also tries to turn shoulders to line of scrimmage to gain body positioning instead of just taking on block.
Donald is a very intriguing prospect because a lot of his technique translates to the NFL level exceptionally well, and interior disruption is arguably (in my eyes) more vital than edge disruption. I do think Donald's size can be overcome, but he needs to add a good bit of strength to be more scheme versatile. He has three-down potential, but right now looks like a nickel-package defensive tackle early on.
Grade: 6.7, 2nd round pick.