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Cowboys Draft 2014: Scouting Aaron Donald

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, its important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you BTB is providing a series of detailed scouting reports on each of these targets. Today the series continues with our look at Pitt Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Name: Aaron Donald

Position: Defensive Tackle (3 Technique)

School: Pittsburgh

Height: 6’1"

Weight: 285 LBs

Games Studied: Virginia, Florida St, Miami

Measurables vs others at his position:

Note: This spider graph provides a visual representation of a players’ measurable traits, and combine results.  The filled in area of the chart, as well as the number in the light grey circle represents the percentile among the player's peers by position.  A score of 85 here represents that out of every 100 players at his position, the player has a better result in that test than 85 of those 100.

Pass Game:

Aaron 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.

Run Game:

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.

Conclusion/Cowboys Projection:

Aaron Donald is the absolute perfect fit for the 3 technique "under" tackle in Rod Marinelli’s defense. He is a great combination of athletic upside, college production & character. With the premium that teams are placing on getting inside pressure on QBs it’s possible Donald could go to a 4-man front team in the top 10 (Oakland, Minnesota etc) and if he does make it through the top 10, there are 3 straight 4-3 teams picking from 12-14 that could all select Donald and improve their defensive fronts. If he is available at 16 he is an almost no-brainer selection because of his fit and upside in this scheme. He would rotate with Henry Melton on early downs, and join him on the field in Nickel rush situations likely replacing Melton as the starter after the 2014 season.

Pro Comparison: Geno Atkins, DT Cincinnati Bengals (2010 4th Round Pick)

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