Last week in practice with fellow seniors at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., Donald stuck out on first glance — and not in a good way.
With teammates standing well over 6-feet-tall around him, Aaron — at just 6-foot himself — looked dwarfed. That is, until he went head-to-head with some of the best offensive linemen this draft has to offer.
That’s when Donald stuck out in the best way possible. Sure, he doesn’t tower over his competition, but he doesn’t need to when he’s got the kind of power he displayed last week and during his career at Pittsburgh.
A winner of the Outland Trophy, for best college lineman, the Lombardi Award, for best lineman or linebacker, and the Bednarik and Nagurski awards, for best defensive player, Donald has the resume to match his performance, if not his size.
“Donald is a very explosive defensive tackle,” head coach Mike Smith said of Donald while coaching the North team last week. “I’ve been very impressed with him. He’s short in stature by NFL standards and doesn’t maybe have all the measurables, but he’s one of the more explosive guys we have on the North squad. He’s done a very nice job both in the running and the pass game.”
Time will tell where Donald best projects in the 2014 NFL Draft, but it’d probably be safe to assume that if he had a few more inches in the height category, he’d be considered a top-5 selection. Most experts think he’ll go near the top of the second round, but after a strong Senior Bowl week and with a good performance in next month’s NFL Combine, Donald could work his way into the first round.
The competition Donald saw at the Senior Bowl was as good as he’ll see and he handled it masterfully. Against players much bigger than him in practice, Donald dominated. He put Baylor guard Cyril Richardson (6-5, 335) on his back a couple of times, for instance. He ate up double teams during Saturday’s Senior Bowl game and he was able to cause pressure at times despite the attention.
As a college player, Donald’s performances consistently gave offensive linemen headaches. He recorded 11 sacks his sophomore year and then did it again last season for the Panthers. Regardless of size, Donald produces.
If teams fixate too much on his height, he could be a real steal after the first round.