We continue with our Making The Case series by looking at the best defensive tackle in the 2014 NFL draft: the explosive Aaron Donald, who fits the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' scheme perfectly. Pewter Report has been vigorously advocating for his selection for months, but there are a few reasons why his selection would not be perfect -- and why it would be.
Why he's a realistic choice for the Buccaneers
Despite Aaron Donald's overwhelming and obvious talent as a three-technique defensive tackle, he's likely to fall to the Bucs' seventh overall pick, and perhaps further than that. Most of the team's picking ahead of the Bucs don't run a 4-3, and hence don't have much of a place for Donald, while those that do run a 4-3 don't have a need at that position.
Moreover, the three-technique is the most important position in Lovie Smith's defense, and Donald is by far the best player at that position in the draft. Yes, the Bucs have the best three-technique in the NFL in Gerald McCoy, but more depth can never hurt. With the predominance of multi-receiver sets and pass-specific defenses, the Bucs should be able to get Donald and McCoy on the field at the same time fairly regularly.
Why he fits the Bucs
Aaron Donald is the perfect three-technique defensive tackle. He's undersized, but he's quick and disruptive, has outstanding technique and leverage, and knows how to get to the quarterback. In some ways he's a more developed Brian Price, without the injury concerns that killed Price's career at the NFL level.
If the Bucs didn't have Gerald McCoy on their roster, Donald would be a slam-dunk pick for them in the first round. Hell, I'd be making the case that they should be trading up for Donald instead of waiting for him to fall to them. Donald is that good. Unfortunately for him, the Bucs do have McCoy, which changes things -- Donald is not going to come in and displace the best three-technique in the NFL. Having the disruptive Clinton McDonald in the fold as well will further limit their interest in Donald.
That doesn't mean the Bucs can't use him, however. Stephen White believes his mastery of technique will allow him to be a productive nose tackle at the NFL level despite his lack of size, which means the Bucs will be able to get McCoy and Donald on the field at the same time. Note: McCoy has intermittently played nose tackle and done very well when asked to do that, too. For Lovie Smith and company, disruption is more important than size and the ability to hold up against the run, so that's a possibility.
Another view is that the Bucs will take Donald, and simply try to get him on the field as much as they can, while he backs up McCoy and McDonald. He'd represent quality insurance in case either defensive tackle is injured, and he could still play a significant number of snaps every game even if they only used him on passing downs. That's not ideal, but it's certainly a possibility.
Ultimately, this is not a likely draft pick for the Buccaneers. Gerald McCoy won't be replaced, and getting both him and Donald on the field consistently could be an issue. Having signed Clinton McDonald, the Bucs now have two disruptive defensive tackles in the interior, and drafting a player for depth with the seventh overall pick is unlikely, if exciting.
But there is a chance that Lovie Smith and company will look at Donald's abilities as a pass rusher and see the kind of talent they simply can't pass up. No player in the draft fits this defense better. It's just that the Bucs already have the best player in the NFL at his position.
What others say about him
The truth is, if Donald was three inches taller he would easily be my No. 1 overall draft pick in May. Although he measured at the combine at a shade less than 6'1, 285 pounds, he played like a much taller and bigger man. That speaks to the high level of technique he uses to win his individual battles play after play after play. I hate to pull a Jon Gruden, but THIS GUY just jumped off the screen in every single game that I broke down.
As I have lamented before, it is hard enough trying to teach most college level pass rushers one signature move that they can win with on a consistent basis, but Donald used at least four different pass rush moves to great effect in every game. That's not even counting the counter spin, which is as rare at the college level as spotting a unicorn. The thing that I love is that on almost every pass rush he ends the move with a rip. That is one of those little things that help you get sacks rather than pressures because it clears the blocker off of you and allows you to run free at the quarterback.
You just don't see guys coming out of college with that high level of technique on a regular basis. Hell, you have some guys starting in the NFL and playing well that don't show hand-fighting at that level. You can put Donald in any defense at any position up front and expect him to succeed because of how polished he is.
While teams that run a two-gap defense may not think as highly of Donald, the teams that like him will absolutely love his game. Donald's athleticism is unique to the position. He can often beat opposing linemen with his foot quickness and hand use. While he's a star on the inside, he showed a few times at Pittsburgh that he's capable of lining up at end and being disruptive.
Following a standout 2013, Donald only helped himself during the offseason process at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine. He starred at both and locked up a spot within the first 20 picks of the draft.
"Junior year, as 3-4 nose tackle, he had 11 sacks," said Breckterfield, who was a third-team All-American defensive end for Oregon State. "He comes back his senior year and knocks it out of the park. He's played in multiple systems. I think he can play anywhere on the defensive line.
"3-4 teams really looking at him to see if he can be that 3-4 end or 3-4 nose. Wherever you put him at, he'll work his tail off. Wherever they decide to take him, he'll mold himself into that guy."
"He was the most valuable player in the Senior Bowl, not Dee Ford," one scout said. "He's a good player if you can get by with his size. He reminds me of the guy from Iowa who plays for the Falcons (DT Jonathan Babineaux)." Also regarded as a better prospect than Green Bay DT Mike Daniels, another ex-Hawkeye. "He's productive as hell," one scout said. "He'll get his (expletive) kicked for 10 straight plays and then he'll make a sack. It's the damndest thing. But down in and down out, playing the run, it's going to be hard."