Name: Aaron Donald
Games Watched: (2013) Virginia, Florida St, Miami
Aaron Donald plays the 3-technique in Pitt's 4-man front, and he is an extremely productive player from that position. Due to his size, (or lack thereof), he is not likely to fit on an odd- (3 man) front team, and may be viewed by some even (4 man) front teams as a guy who is purely a nickel rusher, however I view him as the absolute perfect fit for the 3-technique in Rod Marinelli's group of rush men.
Donald is a very disruptive player who lives in the opponents backfield. He has two or three different moves that he uses to get upfield in a hurry and beat his man. He uses a swim, or arm-over move as well as a double hand slap move to get by the blocker early in the play and become a force in the backfield. Both of those moves are very productive for him coming from the outside shoulder of the guard at the 3-technique. In all three games that I watched, he was almost unblockable 1-on-1 on the pass rush.
Occasionally the scheme would ask him to scoop inside to the A gap to allow a blitzer to rush outside of him and he was capable of getting to the gap, and occupying both the OC and OG to give his man a chance. He even showed the ability to get some push against that G/C double team against Virginia as he was able to scoop inside and press the center of the pocket with power. However, he is not nearly as effective when he scoops inside, or when he attempts to rush down the middle of his man as he is when he gets on the blockers shoulder and can use his hands and his speed to get by.
I saw him play some on the edge as a DE in a 3-man pass rush in certain down-and-distance situations and was hoping to see him be productive there, but I think his quickness advantage is negated a little bit by moving him out there against a tackle. He was able to set the edge as a rusher on a "TEX" (Tackle-End Twist) stunt to allow the DE to loop underneath him, and I think he has the speed to get around the corner if he's asked to be make the loop around a DE on an "Exit" twist as well.
When he does fail to get by his man he is aware enough to get his eyes to the passer and try to get his hands up to knock the ball down. When teams tried to screen him he showed awareness to slow his rush and try to knock the ball down although he left his feet too early and the QB was able to avoid him and make the throw.
As a bit of a small guy inside at DT you would suspect that Donald may have some trouble defending the run, however he is much more difficult to move than would be expected. He plays with good leverage (probably helped by his 6 ft stature). He needs to improve at using his hands to disengage from blocks once the blocker gets on him, but he doesn't lose much ground. Is just OK pursuing down the line from the backside of run plays but this could/should get better with coaching from a guy like Marinelli who's constant preaching running to the ball at all times. He plays in the offense's backfield in the run game as well, using his quickness to get by his man, while still maintaining his gap control and for the most part finishes plays when he has the chance.
In my limited study for the draft thus far in 2014, Donald is my favorite prospect to watch. It seems like he makes a big play every series and is always around the ball. With coaching from Marinelli and Lett he could be an extremely good player in this system and I'm giving him a very solid high 2nd-round grade. He will likely finish in my top 32 players, and I would not be surprised to see him go at the back half of round one come May 8th.