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Where does Aaron Donald fit in first round of NFL Draft?

Posted May 5, 2014

Aaron Donald did all the right things at the University of Pittsburgh, but the undersized defensive tackle needs to find just the right team – or have that team find him – in Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft.


COUNTDOWN TO THE NFL DRAFT

What: 79th annual NFL Draft

When: Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Rounds: First round on Thursday, starting at 5 p.m.; second and third rounds on Friday, starting at 4 p.m.; final four rounds on Saturday, starting at 9 a.m.

Seahawks picks (6): No. 32 overall in the first round; No. 64 overall in the second round; no third-round pick, traded to Vikings last year in the deal to acquire wide receiver Percy Harvin; No. 132 overall in the fourth round; No. 146 overall in the fifth round, from the Raiders in last year’s trade of quarterback Matt Flynn; No. 172 in the fifth round; No. 208 overall in the sixth round; no pick in the seventh round, traded the 247th selection overall to the Raiders for quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Seahawks.com draft series: Today, the defensive linemen

Note: The opinions and analysis in this article and accompanying chart are those of the author and others credited, and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks' coaching staff and personnel department.

Aaron Donald has done and said all the right things.

The defensive tackle from the University of Pittsburgh played four seasons for the Panthers, including all 13 games as a true freshman in 2010. The next season, he was second in the Big East in sacks and tackles for losses despite not moving into the starting lineup until the final five games – at end. In 2012, he led the conference in tackles for losses. Last season, Donald became the first Pitt defensive players to earn unanimous All-American honors since Hugh Green in 1980, and only the fourth player to win the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation’s top defensive player and Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman in the same season.

BEST OF THE BUNCH
Rank Play, school Ht. Wt. Projected
1/1 DE Jadeveon Clowney, S. Carolina 6-5 266 1st Round
1/10 DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh 6-1 285 1st Round
2/19 DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida St. 6-2 299 1st Round
3/24 DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame 6-2 331 1st Round
2/29 DE Dee Ford, Auburn 6-2 252 1st or 2nd

Rankings (position/overall) and projections by Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com

The word: In a draft class many are calling the deepest in a decade, the D-linemen aren’t holding up their end. As NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock put it, “If you’re looking for a defensive tackle, defensive end, it’s not real good.” And it starts at the top, where some are questioning Clowney’s motivation – especially after he signs his rookie contract; and Donald’s lack of size. On Clowney, Mayock has said, “I already think I know what he is: He’s the scariest, freakiest physical specimen I’ve ever seen since I’ve been doing this as a potential upside defensive lineman. … I think when he’s motivated, he’s special. The downside to it is coaches are looking at each other saying, ‘Are we going to have to manage that every day for four or five years?’ You’d like to see a self-starter and not somebody you have to start.”

What about? Brent Urban. The Canadian-born Urban played his college ball at Virginia, where he used his 6-7 frame to break up nine passes last season – tops in the nation for a D-lineman despite missing four games with a high ankle sprain. He then had ankle surgery in February after being injured in the Senior Bowl. That prevented Urban from working out at the NFL Scouting Combine and Virginia’s Pro Day. “He’s a big, strong guy that should start for an NFL team at the five-technique (end position),” Mayock said.

Don’t forget about: Scott Crichton. The defensive end from Oregon State, and Tacoma’s Foss High School before that, is ranked as the fifth-best player at his position and 42nd player overall in this draft class. He has been drawing a lot of attention, making six visits to NFL teams recently. And why not? The 6-3, 273-pound Crichton generated 165 career tackles, including 51 for losses and 22.5 sacks, in three seasons for the Beavers.

Seahawks situation: A defense that led the NFL in average points and yards allowed during the Seahawks’ run to their first Super Bowl championship is down both its starting ends as well as one of its most versatile performers after Red Bryant and Chris Clemons were released and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Clinton McDonald jumped to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. But the losses did not create as large a rebuilding project as it might sound, because the Seahawks actually had a surplus of D-linemen last season. Cliff Avril, who generated eight sacks after being signed in free agency, steps in at the Leo end spot for Clemons. Michael Bennett, who led the team with 8.5 sacks after signing in free agency, is the likely replacement for Bryant at the five-technique end spot. Also waiting for more playing time are Greg Scruggs, who spent last season on injured reserve; and the second-year tandem of Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams, third- and fifth-round draft choices last year. Hill was active for four games while Williams spent his rookie season on IR. This is not to say the Seahawks won’t address the D-line at some point during the three-day draft, it’s just not the glaring need that some suggest.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, he not only worked out, Donald put up impressive numbers: 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the fastest among the defensive tackles; 35 reps with 225 pounds in the bench press; and a 32-inch vertical leap. And his interviews with the media, as well as those with teams, were punctuated with “yes sir” and “no sir.”

So why have the dreaded terms “slide” and “fly” become associated with Donald’s name when it comes to the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday?

It starts with his size – or, to be more precise, Donald’s lack of prototypical size. He’s barely 280 pounds and it’s a stretch to list him at 6 feet 1. One scouting report after the Combine called Donald a “short, scrappy, instinctive, highly productive defensive penetrator who does not look the part.”

No one doubts that Donald will hear his name called on Thursday, but when and by which team?

During a conference call last week, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said, “Aaron Donald, I think I have No. 12 (overall) on my board. But if he doesn’t go to Chicago or Dallas at 14 or 16, he could fly down.”

This is not to say that Mayock is down on Donald. To the contrary.

“If I have eight or 10 favorite players every year, he’s one of them this year for me,” Mayock said. “I’m a little worried about it just because sometimes guys slide a little bit because they’re not a fit for particular teams. Not because they’re not really good football players.

“He did everything you could do to become a Top 10 or 15 pick. Great college career. Tremendous Senior Bowl week, where he dominated. Ran like crazy at the Combine. He did everything. He should be a top half of the first round (pick), and I hope he is.”

Donald? He’s undaunted. Like Earl Thomas, the Seahawks’ All-Pro free safety, Donald has been undersized his entire career. Like Thomas, Donald tries to use that as motivation.

Asked at the Combine just how high he could go in the first round, Donald offered, “You never know. All I can do is do my part and keep trying to open up eyes with what I did on the football field, what I did in my career on film. Just go out there and try to compete and shock a couple more people.”

Then Donald was asked if he was tired of answering questions about his size.

“It never got to me, it is what it is,” he said. “Thinking about it isn't going to get me any taller. All I can (do) is go play the game of football, the way I play it: hard-nosed, out there trying to make plays.”

Donald would prefer to let the numbers he put up at Pitt, and the tape of him putting up those numbers, speak for him. Like his 29.5 sacks, including 11 last season and also in 2011. And those 66 tackles for losses, including 28.5 to lead the NCAA last season.

“I feel like I can make an impact right away, feel like I can come in and have trust in the coaches and playbook and make plays right away,” Donald said when asked what he would bring to the NFL team that does selected him.

But when will that happen, and which team will it be?

“I hope he does not fly,” Mayock said. “He’s too good a football player, too good a kid, but it has to be the right fit.”

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