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BBV Film Room, 2014 NFL Draft Edition: A look at Aaron Donald

Aaron Donald is the consensus top defensive tackle in the 2014 draft, but just how well does his game translate to the NFL?


For this trip into the film room we take a look at one of the best defensive prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft class, Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh. Donald capped a highly-productive senior season at Pitt by winning pretty much every post-season award he was eligible for as a defensive tackle. He also happens to be in the thick of the conversation as a potential pick for the New York Giants at 12 overall in 2014 NFL Draft.

However, with all due respect, there's a difference between playing for the Pittsburgh Panthers and playing in the NFL.

Let's take a look at how his game might translate to the NFL.

Pass Rush

NFL defenses covet the ability to affect opposing offense's passing games. Either in coverage or pass-rushing, the ability to disrupt passers is vitally important to every NFL defense. Fortunately for Donald, rushing the passer is his calling card.


via (Aaron Donald vs Florida State (2013) by DCheeseB)



As you can see, Donald is simply too quick for most college interior linemen to handle. His first step is impressive, as are his abilities to bend and apply leverage. He can get in trouble when an offensive lineman isn't beaten off the snap and is able to meet his initial move. His counter moves can take time and his lack of length can show up when an offensive lineman gets on him first.

Donald's pass rushing abilities would seem to transfer very well to the NFL. However, since he would be going up against what amounts to the top 1 percent of college linemen (even a poor NFL lineman would rate well among college linemen), Donald will need to keep working on his craft (both physically and technique-wise) to limit the opportunities that offensive linemen have to block him squarely.

Run Defense

The other part of a defensive tackle's game is stopping the run between the tackles. If a defensive tackle wants to be an every-down player, he needs to be able to contribute to run defense. By and large, there are two ways for defensive tackles to defend the run: Disruption behind the line of scrimmage or taking on blockers and keeping the linebackers clean to make plays.



via (Aaron Donald vs Georgia Tech (2013) by DCheeseB)

Donald's best asset in the run game is the same as in the passing game: His ability to get behind the line of scrimmage. In this case he is helped a bit by a poor block by the guard, and the back deciding to go through the same gap that he is. However, Donald does an excellent job of bending so the guard doesn't get a clean shot on him, and reacting quickly to keep the back from making him miss.

Power Run Defense


via (Aaron Donald vs Georgia Tech (2013) by DCheeseB)

(If it's tough to see, Donald is the LDT, lined up on the RG)

Here we see one of the weaknesses in Donald's game. When an offensive lineman can block him squarely, he lacks the bulk and strength to anchor and control the block, or even to avoid getting pushed around, even when blocked one-on-one. While this is a drive blocking play, he can also get moved out of the way in zone blocking schemes as well.

Donald's run defense is the same as his pass defense: He is a penetrator. He is at his best when he can beat linemen off the snap. If he's blocked squarely, his athleticism allows him the chance to slip the block and make a play as the back gets to the line of scrimmage. However, he is at a disadvantage in the power run game, and that will have to affect how his future defensive coordinator uses him, and how offensive coordinators deal with him.


Finally, one thing that has to go into the evaluation and projection of all defensive prospects is their awareness. NFL offenses are constantly introducing new wrinkles into their schemes. Screen passes all over the field, roll-outs, play-action, and misdirection ... Defensive players need to be aggressive, but also have their heads on a swivel to avoid being taken in by a play that isn't what it appears to be.


via (Aaron Donald vs Florida State (2013) by DCheeseB)

(Donald is the RDT)


via (Aaron Donald vs Florida State (2013) by DCheeseB)

(Once again Donald is the RDT)

To me, this is the weakest part of Donald's game. Like most speed rushers, he is very aggressive. So, when he bites on a play fake, he bites HARD. As a result, he can take himself right out of a play. More than anything else, this is the area of his game that he is going to have to work on. Fortunately it is coachable, at least to some extent. He is going to have to learn to keep his head on a swivel and play disciplined as well as aggressive. Also, being able to spend more time during the week studying film and in meetings, as well as having a higher football IQ around him, should help.


Donald is going to be a good pro. He has the tools to be an impact player behind the line of scrimmage. He is, and will be, a pass rusher first and foremost. The team that drafts him will need to recognize his limitations as well as his abilities. There is the distinct possibility that he might have to come off the field in situations that become slug-fests (thirrd and inches, goal line situations), when his size could prove to be a liability.

Also, his coaches are going to have to work with him to make sure he doesn't get taken in badly by misdirection plays. That's common among rookies, but since Donald is the type of player that those plays are designed to target, he is going to have to make sure he can adapt.