DT Aaron Donald’s Big Day is Bad News for the Dallas Cowboys

Nov 16, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams (12) is pressured by Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Aaron Donald (97) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As I sat watching the NFL Combine I found myself wishing doom upon DT Aaron Donald. It’s not that I dislike Donald, but rather the complete opposite. I love the kid. I just didn’t want everyone else to fall in love like I did. Sadly, tragedy struck on Monday as Donald provided the performance of the day. Even better than Clowney in many peoples’ opinion.

He’s much more than a workout warrior – he’s the real deal. The 6’1” 285 lb tackle from Pittsburg is modestly sized for his position. Despite his physical stature, Donald still dominated in the college ranks. Fighting constant double teams he was able to post 11 sacks from the defensive tackle position.

While many highly-rated physically-imposing players like Hageman and Clowney disappear from time to time on film, Donald never takes plays off. He follows assignments and attacks the run as well. Many elite defensive linemen focus almost exclusively on sacks and QB pressures. Donald takes on the run with the same fervor he chases the QB, posting over 28 tackles for loss in 2013.

Despite his stellar 2013 season he still barely scratched the surface of the first round. It was clear his size was an issue as teams wondered if an undersized DT could continue that level of dominance at the NFL level.

Jan 25, 2014; Mobile, AL, USA; South squad quarterback David Fales of San Jose State (12) gets wrapped up by North squad defensive tackle Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh (97) and North squad outside linebacker Michael Sam of Missouri (55) during the second quarter at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Then came the Senior Bowl.

And then the NFL Combine.

In the two post season events Donald impressed coaches with his attitude, work ethic, and intelligence. When matched against the best of his peers in the Senior Bowl, he continued to find success. He can run like the wind and is an athletic freak of nature. At this point, Aaron Donald must be considered by all teams. He’s ideal as a 3-technique in a 4-3 but has the power and versatility to also play DE in a 3-4.

It will be interesting to see how far up he has moved but it’s very clear he has moved up substantially. Where we stand now, I would be surprised the Cowboys will even have the opportunity to draft him as he could be long gone by then.

But it’s a long way till May…

Do you have questions or comments regarding Dallas area sports? Email Reid at [email protected]. You may be included in the next weekly mailbag. Follow Reid on twitter @ReidDHanson

 

Topics: 2014 NFL Draft, Aaron Donald, Dallas Cowboys

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  • Ed

    I felt the same way about the difference between Clowny and Donald. I just don’t trust the work ethic of Clowney. However, hope is not lost. This draft is thick with talent and I hope JJ pulls his head out and packs in as much of it on to the roster this year.

  • ctcowboy1968

    Projected as a late 1st rounder, has his stock pushed him up past the mid 1st round? Great player and would take him as a Cowboy. Many teams will still have the size concern, but I don’t think Marinelli will be concerned. He is not going to go in the top 10. Basically, the only team that might take him high would be the Bears at 14. After Clowney, I don’t see a DT getting picked in the mid 1st round other than by the Bears and Cowboys. If the Bears take him, then there is Jernigan and Hageman for the Boys. Question is if Cowboys take the chance and trade back to still get one of these DTs.

    • Reid Hanson

      Most projections haven’t updated yet but Donald’s stock is soaring. It’s only a matter of time before the analysts catch up to what the teams have figured out these past few weeks.
      I have him going to the Bears right now. They have a very similar scheme to the Cowboys and have questions around their 3-technique DT, Henry Melton. Melton is one of the best 3-techs in the league but he coming off of knee surgery and will command huge money. Chicago just said they will not be franchising him and if a deal isn’t made, they will let him hit the open market . Basically if Melton goes – Chicago is taking Donald. If Melton stays – Dallas will get have a chance at Donald. I’m writing a story on the Melton/Donald connection as we speak!
      Thanks for reading and commenting. We really appreciate the discussion.

  • SmartThinking

    The Combine goes a long way towards proving the value of a potential player but, let’s be honest. In a deep draft where teams won’t have to speculate, why give up 3 or 4 inches and twenty pounds at a key, every down position, when there are plenty of capable guys out there that fill that bill with the same intensity?

    Dallas doesn’t have the luxury this year of taking a chance on a guy who’s too small to play against elite 310 lb. and 320 lb. lightening fast OG’s who make their living chewing up smaller players.

    Have we learned nothing from the Sean Lee experiment?

    • Reid Hanson

      Thanks for the comment! Sean Lee is whole different issue. He’s a long-time injury prone player dating back to college when he wasn’t undersized. Why the Cowboys gave him an extension is beyond me. I fought with people all the time on the long-term worth of Lee before he got his new contract.
      The bust rate on DTs in the 1st round is thought to be high because often times DTs rely on size alone in college. They aren’t used to working hard or learning technique. Donald never took plays off and was the hardest working player on the team. That makes him considerably less risky than a typically sized DT. Donald also proved he had success against NFL caliber OG’s in school and at the Senior Bowl. He out benched his larger peers attesting to his strength and is more athletic than most of the DEs. Being a 3-technique undertackle he won’t have to overcome the challenges that other DT’s have either.

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