He hasn’t garnered the headlines that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney generated in 2013, but there wasn’t a more decorated defensive player in all of college football than Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The 6’0″, 285-pound senior, who had 59 tackles, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles for the Panthers last year, won both the Bednarik and Nagurski awards as college football’s top defensive player in 2013.
Not only did Donald add the Outland and Lombardi trophies to that impressive haul, but Donald carried that momentum right over into practices at the 2014 Senior Bowl. The All-American was named the Most Dominant Defensive Player in workouts in Alabama, with Mark Dulgerian of OptimumScouting.com telling Terez Paylor of The Kansas City Star “One AFC scout couldn’t stop raving about him. He’s a three-technique but he can play the five-technique as well. He’s pretty versatile.”
The Ball Says: Donald consistently overwhelmed blockers with his explosive first step last year. As Rob Rang of CBS Sports writes Donald, “Comes off the snap like he’s shot out of a cannon. His first step routinely beats opponents for immediate pressures. Has an effective arm-over swim move, though he doesn’t use this often enough. His stature gives Donald the leverage advantage which he uses well to get under the pads of opponents and drive them into the backfield on bull-rushes.”
The knock on Donald, not surprisingly, is his small size and short arms (31.75″) relative to his position. As Rang put it, “As with most undersized pass-rushers, when Donald’s burst is contained his short arms limit his effectiveness. Donald keeps his legs churning and plays with effort, but he can get caught up in the hand-to-hand combat.”
Still, Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller doesn’t see Donald’s diminutive stature as a major stumbling block in the NFL, ranking him this year’s top prospect at tackle. “Donald doesn’t fit the ideal model of an NFL defensive tackle for some,” Miller said “but at 1/8″ shy of 6’1″ and 288 pounds, he’s big enough for me. And he’s quick. So quick. Donald’s first step is full of burst, which allows him to shoot past interior offensive linemen before they can get their hands on him. In some cases, being short is actually a big benefit for Donald. The lower he fires out of his stance, the more leverage he has. At under 6’1″, Donald is an almost impossibly small target to block off the ball. All the teams that passed on Geno Atkins or Jurrell Casey because they were too short can make it right by going after Donald. They’ll be glad they did.”
Add it all up and it’s enough for Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey to project Donald coming off the board in the middle of the first round and heading to the Windy City. “Bears fans want a safety,” Schottey wrote, “but none of the safeties in this class are worth a top-15 pick. Donald, however, would do a great job pairing with, or replacing, tackle Henry Melton. The Bears defense needs a ton of work, and Donald is the most disruptive player on the board.”
Miller’s comparison of Donald to Atkins and Casey should catch the attention of IDP owners, since each has posted top-15 fantasy numbers among defensive linemen in recent years. That’s a best-case scenario, but the same small(ish) size that limits Donald’s NFL fits appeals to fantasy owners. It’s just that sort of undersized, penetrating one-gap tackle who posts stats and can be a real asset in DT-required formats.
Much of Donald’s early IDP value will hinge on his landing spot (and subsequent playing time), and of course his value is significantly higher in dynasties. However, assuming that Donald plays a significant role in his first year and maintains DT eligibility, there’s enough potential present with Donald to make him an interesting upside pick late in IDP drafts, especially in leagues that require the position.
Gary Davenport is the IDP Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks, an NFL and Fantasy Football Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report, a Contributing Author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Gary’s IDP work has been featured in a number of national print publications and on both satellite and terrestrial radio, and he was a finalist for the FSWA Web Article of the Year in 2013.