In today's P-G, I wrote about Aaron Donald's big week down in Mobile, Ala., for the 2014 Senior Bowl (which airs today at 4 p.m. on NFL Network). Donald was named the Most Outstanding Overall Player from the week of practice, and almost certainly improved his positioning for May's NFL Draft.
So Aaron Donald was pretty much the star of the show down at Senior Bowl practices, right?
RR: He really was. He was terrific. It's not anything that you guys hadn't seen. He's been unbelievable all year long and he just carried that through into that week of practice.
Was it beneficial for NFL scouts to see him going up against guys like Cyril Richardson, Zack Martin and other guys who could be high draft picks?
RR: I believe it was. I think even against top competition that he faced this year, to have that many scouts in the stands and to see it snap after snap after snap, it's pretty hard to argue that he was a product of the defense or that his play doesn't translate into the NFL.
What was most impressive about Donald that scouts saw this week?
RR: Physically speaking, his quickness, his use of hands. He has, in my opinion, underrated strength at the point of attack. Even going back to Monday during the weigh-in, 6-1, 288 pounds, I think that he came in just a little bit bigger than people were thinking that he might. A lot of people have been kind of fusing he and Will Sutton from Arizona State, ranking them as 1A and 1B as far as the so-called undersized defensive tackles. To see Will Sutton come in a little out of shape, with kind of a belly and all that, then Aaron Donald, on the other hand, about as trim as a 288-pound man is going to look. But looking good, looking like that's the weight he should be at to play in the NFL, I think all those things.
The physical things are certainly impressive, but then just the relentlessness, I think, also definitely struck a chord with me.
How does he project onto an NFL defense? Does it have to be as a three-technique in a 4-3 scheme?
RR: That's where I believe he fits in best. I think you're trying to put a square peg in a round hole if you're going to use him in a 3-4. He has such great quickness and such relentlessness, that I believe that he could be successful in a 3-4, perhaps on the nose in pass-rushing situations, not necessarily as a full-down guy because he's just going to, I would think, get blown off the ball as the game wore on. But, as a three-technique in a 4-3 defense, an interior pass-rusher, in my opinion, there is not a better pass-rushing defensive tackle in this year's draft class.
Do you see him as a first-round pick?
RR: I absolutely believe it's a possibility. I've been putting him in that top 40-45 mix essentially since late October, early November. So I think that he just improved his status this week. That would be the one thing I want to make sure people realize is that this week just confirmed what we saw. The idea that he was a third- or fourth-round pick before and suddenly has sky-rocketed into the first round, that's a little bit of an exaggeration. He's had a phenomenal year and, again, this was kind of the exclamation point. He's proven his play all year long.
What NFL teams do you think make sense for Donald at this point?
RR: The Chicago Bears are a team that, at least, the belief is they're looking for a pass-rushing defensive tackle. Just given the quarterbacks in that division, that makes some sense. You've got to get some interior pressure on those quarterbacks. I would say the Chicago Bears. I would say, as you start to get to about the midpoint of the first round, anywhere past there, I think he makes sense for virtually all the 4-3 teams. To me, a good fit would actually be the two teams that are playing in the Super Bowl, just because they're both predicated on pressure on their defense, and they both have some needs on the interior defensive line for pressure. I think that he's one of those guys that, because he doesn't have great size, perhaps he slips into the late portion of the first round and then he goes to a team that's just stacked, and it helps him be that much more successful early in his career.