Aaron Donald is much better than I thought

January 26th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Yeah -- time for a rethink

I’m not sure how I got it so wrong.

My first impression of Aaron Donald was pretty middling. Sometimes when you watch full games instead of tape cuts, it’s hard to notice consistently good play.

That’s the excuse I’ll roll with, but at the end of the day I just made a bad call.

Donald can play.

And he could be a first round pick.

In going back to re-access his potential I wanted to focus on two games against very different opponents.

I wanted to see how he faired against the best of the best — National Champions Florida State. And I wanted to watch him against a much less polished opponent — Bowling Green State.

On both occasions he was superb. I couldn’t have been more impressed.

Again — how did I miss on this guy so badly?

I’ll get to the positives in a moment, but first here’s one lingering issue. You will be able to have some success in the run game versus Donald.

As good as he is at getting into the backfield and having an impact, you can scheme against him in the run.

He’s not an immovable object, and you wouldn’t expect that at 6-0 and 288lbs.

When you face off against him 1v1 — he nearly always wins with leverage because of the size. Being small is actually a positive in that sense. He also has the hands and lower body power to excel in that type of situation.

Yet when blockers take a different angle and try to stretch a run out wide, he can be moved. When he can’t set and get the hands up, the lack of size shows. That opens up cut back lanes and there are a few occasions where you think at the next level that would be exploited.

Whoever drafts Donald is probably just going to have to live with the fact he’ll give up the odd big hole/run play.

Even so, it might be worth it for all the positives you get as a pocket collapsing, dominating interior force.

I liked Jordan Hill a lot last year and was pleased to see Seattle spend a third round pick bringing him in — even if his rookie year has been severely hampered with injuries.

Donald is kind of like a top of the range version of Hill. In some ways they have a very similar game. But where as Hill flashed as a playmaker in the backfield, Donald practically lives there.

Time and time again he collapses the pocket. He ended the year with 11 sacks but was probably responsible for a lot more. In the two games I watched he was consistently having an impact — driving blockers into the backfield, forcing quarterbacks to move out of the pocket and recording a splash.

When he doesn’t get the sack, he’ll at least force a bad throw or get a teammate on the stat sheet.

It’s been a while since I saw a defensive lineman this busy, causing so many problems for two very different opponents.

In the FSU game I actually think he could’ve done a better job finishing, but the fact of the matter is he was there time and time again in position to make a play.

I wanted to see how he coped against the best in college football and it was interesting to see how much success he had against the Seminoles. He was the only one causing Jameis Winston any problems. And Winston had a day for the ages — a truly sensational quarterbacking performance.

He needed it too, with the way Donald was playing.

Then I put on the BGSU tape hoping to see him clean up against a much weaker team.

He did just that.

It’s unusual to see a defensive lineman just rag-doll a blocker, but there was Donald going to work. On a couple of occasions he practically tossed the guard or center into the quarterbacks lap.

Remember the way we looked at the three technique position last year? I wrote this piece in February 2013 titled ‘The Bill Walsh defensive tackle’.

It contains notes from Matt Waldman detailing what Walsh looked for when drafting players.

We know Pete Carroll’s links to Walsh and there’s some crossover between the two styles of coaching. This line quoted in the piece has stayed with me, referring to what he wanted in a DT:

The best defensive tackles move the offensive guard back into the quarterback. (emphasis mine) They won’t have nearly as many sacks as others, but if they can move the guard back into the quarterback, then the quarterback has to avoid his own lineman as if he were a pass rusher before he throws the ball. So this is a key ability.

This is Donald.

Even when he’s not getting on the stat sheet, he’s going to make life easy for the edge rushers. He’ll get the quarterback on the move, trying to make reads on the hop.

He uses his hands well, makes the most of his leverage advantage, has a strong lower base that generates plenty of power, his first step quickness is right up there and he’s capable of slipping blockers with a quick swim move.

Every time an undersized pass rusher like this comes onto the scene he gets compared to Geno Atkins.

Perhaps for the first time, that comparison may be legit.

Donald may never ever get anywhere near that kind of impact. There’s a reason Atkins is a bit of a freak of nature.

But if there’s one player capable of getting into the league and actually making it happen at this size, Donald is your guy.

One more time — I’m not sure how I got it so wrong before.

A good team should consider him late in the first.

A team with some edge rushers to compliment his ability to collapse the pocket.

A team that can rotate their defensive linemen and limit some of the issues he’ll have against the run.

In many ways Seattle would perfect for him. I think we should put him on the radar — especially if they lose Clinton McDonald to free agency. McDonald’s impact this year is really underrated — he had 5.5 sacks and it’d be an upset if other teams weren’t willing to reward him for that.

In fact I’d put money on him ending up in Jacksonville.

Spending a first rounder to replace McDonald might be overkill — but I do think it’ll be an option. You could argue Jordan Hill may be tagged for that role — and nobody should write him off after one year.

But if Donald’s there in the late first, you have to consider it.

One of Seattle’s biggest off-season priorities has to be getting a big bodied receiver for Russell Wilson to compliment the current group.

If Kelvin Benjamin or Brandon Coleman are there at #31/32 they have to be in play. It’s the one area Seattle can really take a tangible step forward, particularly with the way they’re structuring the offense.

They want to run the ball and hit big plays downfield off play action. Not having a starting receiver over 6-0/6-1 is conducive to that.

A bigger red zone threat would also be nice, especially considering the struggles they’ve had recently inside the 20.

Benjamin and Coleman aren’t just big — both have limitless potential. They’re also far from the finished article and need time. I’ll take a chance on either in the late first.

If they’re both gone, then you look down the list at other needs. And maintaining the depth and quality of the defensive line has to be up there.

Remember — McDonald isn’t the only free agent in waiting. Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett are also set to hit the market.

Donald is a really exciting player to watch. He could go in the top-25. His size could also see him last into the second round.

Either way — I wouldn’t bet against him having a lot of success in the NFL.

Exciting player.

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Game tape vs Florida State & Bowling Green State:

45 Responses to “Aaron Donald is much better than I thought”

  1. dave crockett says:

    Good write up.

    I watched Pitt’s bowl game specifically to watch him. He didn’t do much but seemed to open things up for the other guys. I was a pleased to see the tape on him.

    I wonder, is he more Geno Atkins or John Randle?

    • oz says:

      He is a lot like Randle. With better hand play and upper body strength I think he would become a force to be reckoned with. I would like to see more down-field pursuit, although he plays every down it seems he gives up on plays when they get away from him. With coaching and conditioning I think he will be something special.

    • Attyla the Hawk says:

      I wouldn’t hold his bowl game tape against him. He was frequently double teamed and occasionally triple teamed. They loaded up to stop him.

  2. kevin mullen says:

    When Rice went down, the offense took a hit. Say what have you regarding the OLine during that span, but if we all recall last year and the early part of this year, during our high point (on offense) Rice was intrigual of that. Most of all those explosive, deep threat plays were from Rice, a 6’3″ WR.

    I’ll take either Benjiman or Coleman, but if both were available, I’m leaning towards Kelvin.

    • Jon says:

      I would say that Rice was central in making that game plan work, but was still a downward trend as far as his effectiveness. I think another position like this article suggests is possible, but the hole left in the mold of a big WR is very significant for this offense.

    • Ben says:

      The more I watch Benjamin, the more I dislike him. He’s got size, and he’s got powerful legs, but that’s about it. there’s not much more to his game. He’s content, and you can’t be a Seahawk and be content.

    • David ESS says:

      I myself am liking Brandon Coleman, but then again, that is based off what i’ve read and heard of him haha.

      Does anyone have any info on any later round big WR like:

      -Marcus Lucas 6’4 220 Missouri, According to Cbssports he is projected to go 7-FA

      -Anthony Denham 6’4 222 Utah, no projection

      -Je’Ron Hamm 6’3 232 Lousiana-Monroe, no projection

      -DJ Coles 6-3 234 Virginia Tech, no projection

      I was curious about these guys mainly because of their size. i dont know anything else about them so if anyone has info on them that would be cool.

      I wonder about Donte Moncrief too, big WR but again dont know anything about him.

    • Kenny Sloth says:

      Benjamin has way fewer excuses for his inconsistency. Coleman probably has more upside, too. He’s got a much larger frame and I think he’s faster. KB can probably jump higher and is more tenacious.

      • Miles says:

        Question — If we would be drafting Brandon Coleman solely for his athletic qualities and not for the product he put on the field at Rutgers, doesn’t that make drafting him early rather pointless? In other words, why would you draft a 6’6″ receiver in round one that you know you’ll have to develop instead of a 6’4″/6’5″ one in round 5 or 6 like Marcus Lucas or L’Damien Washington? And where do you draw the line when it comes to valuing the athletic potential of players like this compared to what they’ve done on the field?

        • Kenny Sloth says:

          I didn’t say anything about drafting either of them or where they ranked on my board. I said Coleman is heavier and faster. Well. Wherever you take a receiver they’ll probably have to be developed for at least a year. Most don’t get it down until their 3rd. Seattle takes athletic potential over production any day of the week. Not sure what you’re asking.

        • Rob Staton says:

          The issue here is Miles, you’re going to have to develop whoever you draft. Seattle isn’t picking in the top ten.

          Coleman has a legitimate shot — IMO — to be another Josh Gordon. With the greatest respect to Lucas and Washington, the same can’t be said for either of those two.

          • Miles says:

            Whenever you say that Coleman could be the next Josh Gordon I get wide-eyed and salivate. I just think its risky to draft receivers early, though. Not that it won’t pay off. Golden Tate took three years to blossom, but he was brought in in midst of a re-building WR core that had plenty of roster spots to fill. If we have to develop a WR now, on this roster, it’d be significantly more painful to reserve that roster spot for someone who doesn’t contribute right away. That’s why that player BETTER damn well pay off down the road.

  3. bigDhawk says:

    The thing that keeps popping into my mind when considering Donald is the fact we must be built on defense to beat the 49ers, first and foremost. That means being built to stop a power running game. So talking about Donald in terms of him being a liability on run defense concerns me, especially if he is supposed to replace run stuffers like McDonald and McDaniel, despite his other accolades. It doesn’t matter if we can beat everyone else in the league but then get run over by SF in the conference championship game. I’m overstating the case a little, obviously. Donald won’t be the only factor involved in our run defense. I’m just not sold yet on him fitting into our Bigger, Stronger, Faster template on DL, even if he does other things well like getting into the backfield (much like my feelings about of Jordan Hill). Always happy to wrong in underestimation, though.

    As for getting that tall receiver, I just don’t have a good feeling about either Benjamin or Coleman. Both have big on-field red flags. Benjamin looks more and more like a less talented Dez Bryant every time I watch him, and Coleman has the injury history plus he just doesn’t consistently demonstrate great football instincts. His biggest attributes is his height, and too often he just looks like a tall guy who happens to play football. I’m wondering if we shouldn’t just use our first round pick to trade back and pick up some depth that we completely whiffed on in the 2013 draft, or use it on a great player that has fallen regardless of position. To fill our tall receiver need, here are a few potential mid to late round gems:

    http://draftbreakdown.com/players/devin-street/
    Devin Street, Pitt, 6’4″ 190# RS Senior: Where Coleman looks like a tall guy who happens to play football, Street looks like a football player who happens to be tall. The kid looks like a total baller to me. He is listed at a Sherman-like 190#, but looks and plays heavier than that, with room on his frame to grow. He might end up being a better player than either Benjamin or Coleman.

    http://draftbreakdown.com/players/cody-latimer/
    Cody Latimer, Indiana, 6’3″, 215#, Junior (declared): To me Latimer looks like a physical clone of Donte Moncrief, but looks much more graceful and fluid than Moncrief, with better hands and route running. There are a bunch of highlight videos on youtube of Indiana’s 2013 season that bare this out, in addition to the draftbreakdown video link above. Moncrief will likely go in the second round and I like Latimer better, who might still be on the board in the fourth round. He looks like a Michael Crabtree starter kit to me, apologies to Richard Sherman.

    http://draftbreakdown.com/players/martavis-bryant/
    Martavis Bryant, Clemson, 6’5″, 200#, Junior (declared)

    http://draftbreakdown.com/players/seantavius-jones/
    Seantavius Jones, Valdosta State, 6’3″, 209#, Senior

    http://draftbreakdown.com/players/roman-wilson/
    Roman Wilson, Princeton, 5’11″, 190#, Senior: Because the other thing we currently lack is a sub-6′ white guy always getting open from the slot. This guy looks the part in spades.

    http://draftbreakdown.com/players/jared-abbrederis/
    Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin, 6’1″, 190, RS senior: Many here are familiar with his work. Solid player and former Russell Wilson teammate.

    • oz says:

      I like Latimer a lot.

    • Ben says:

      I hadn’t seen Latimer before. That was some great tape against Bowling Green. I wonder how he’d do against better competition.

      • bigDhawk says:

        Bowling Green were not exactly doormats. 2013 was the best season for that program in a long time, so consider that video of Latimer with no asterisks.

    • Madmark says:

      I kindia made my mind up already for Brandon Coleman but I wouldn’t draft him in the 1st. I think he falls into 3rd round and thus becomes the last pick in the 2nd round.

      • bigDhawk says:

        I would not be disappointed if we got Coleman at the end on the second round, but I’ll be shocked if he falls that far. Honestly I’d be geeked if we came out of the draft with both Street and Latimer. Competition Wednesdays would be epic.

  4. AlaskaHawk says:

    New exercise that I would like to see in the combine. Receivers having to catch 6 balls in 30 seconds. Just fire those balls downfield every 5 seconds and see if they can keep up. Put them all within a 10 yard catch area. This would be a great opportunity to show off their hands and catching skills. 12 balls in one minute would be even better.

  5. Attyla the Hawk says:

    Donald confirmed his great tape. He should be a R1 candidate.

    I’m also wondering if Dee Ford hasn’t thrust himself on our R1 radar. Obviously we have talent at LEO. But that position is a critical position for us. Currently manned by very expensive players (over 20 million committed to it this season). Avril’s contract expires in the Wilson extension offseason. Having a cheap and quality option there will go a LONG way to keeping the band together.

    • Kenny Sloth says:

      There are some spectacular mid round options this year at Leo which I hope to discuss here soon.

    • Michael (CLT) says:

      I concur. Ford’s interview after the senior bowl was Seattle’esque.

      • bigDhawk says:

        I thought the same thing. And I can see him developing into a much more complete player than how he has been utilized at Auburn – K.J. Wright 2.0 or even more.

  6. Ben2 says:

    The idea of a DT early doesn’t bother me….with a late rd pick like ours pick the best guy that fits need/system. I agree with Rob that a big target for Russell is a big need, but so is cap relief along the D-line. With so much depth at WR and with the sheer number of underclass men coming out I’d like to trade back, get an extra pick, and maybe even double down on 2 late round larger WR candidates. We’ve seen this FO use multiple late rd picks on the secondary – why not try it at WR. If 1 of the 2 made it that’s still draft capital well spent (think Byron maxwell and mark Legree – Maxwell is a stud now and Legree is gone. To find a late rd gem at a specific position you have to increase your odds)

  7. AlaskaHawk says:

    We have tried late round picks at wide receiver. The only high round draft pick we have ever made under PC was Golden Tate in the top of the second round. All other picks have been in fourth round to undrafted free agent. We have also gone the free agent route with Rice and Harvin. The only lesson I get out of all our efforts is that it is hard to find a consistent wide receiver. Our receivers are good but not great. They will never be compared to Megatron, Fitzgerald, or even Boldin (who along with Gore were the main reasons SF made the playoffs).

    It’s time we quit worrying about our #1 defense and gave the offense some weapons.

    • Miles says:

      If our offense is measured on a scale comparative to Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitz, we will never have good receivers. We should bring the bar down a bit, AH. Haha. But you’re right, it’s very difficult to find consistent receivers. Every year the Hawks take a conservative chance on a guy (see Kris Durham, Chris Harper) and they’ve been misses. So you can see how damaging it would be if we took one early and it failed. I think PC and JS have to be really sure about a guy to draft him early if he’s a receiver. That’s why even if both Brandon Coleman and Kelvin Benjamin are available at #32, the Seahawks could pass on both of them and take a guy who looks like a system-fit, like Aaron Donald. I could easily see Donald being slotted in our NASCAR D-Line package.

      The only question would then what to do with Jordan Hill, as Hill basically does what Donald does, just not as well.

      • AlaskaHawk says:

        It gets back to where do we need help? Our defense is rated #1. The only thing we lack is a huge DT that will take up two blockers, and Donald is not that guy. Arguably we could use another safety, edge rusher, and another linebacker, but those are way down the priority list.

        Offensively we still don’t have a backup for Marshawn Lynch. I don’t consider that a big deal as there will be plenty of UDFA running backs to pick from this year. Our offensive line is injury prone. Also not a big deal because we can find serviceable guys in the middle rounds.

        And it is widely agreed that we need a tall #1 receiver. I only see one receiver that I consider a superstar, Sammy Watkins. The rest may or may not make it. But what I do know is this: the highest percentage of wide receivers who make it in the NFL will be taken in the first round. The percentages just go down from there. So why not pick a tall wide receiver and go with them in the first?

        • Kenny Sloth says:

          Nonono, what we lack on defense is a pass rushing DT. Mebane is our big guy.

          We don’t just pick a tall receiver and go with them in the first because that’s stupid.
          You don’t just pick a tall receiver. You go through every receiver and see which one’s you like best. Some might be available in the later rounds. You could take one guy you’re not sure about in the first, because he wouldn’t be available later, or take two just as raw fellows later on that you like better and let them fight it out for a roster spot.

          Just because more receivers that pan out go in the first doesn’t mean that taking a receiver in the first gives him more opportunity to succeed.

          • AlaskaHawk says:

            Lets go back to square one. Our defense is ranked #1. They don’t need help. Our offense is ranked #7 – they do need help. Build the draft from there.

            • Rob Staton says:

              I think both units will need help to be fair.

              Keeping the defense at #1 will be just as important as improving an already top-ten offense.

              • Miles says:

                Agreed.

                As good as our defense would still be next year if we didn’t draft a single defensive player in the 2014 draft, you must maintain the top-ranked defense in order for it to stay there. Yes, we’ll still have key DBs and LBs, but the defensive line is going to need re-stocking. Particularly if we can’t sign Michael Bennett. McDaniel and McDonald are both going to be difficult re-signings. And I’m guessing Chris Clemons is going to be gone too.

    • Ben2 says:

      Our #1 rated defense got us to the Super Bow….I’d like to maintain it

  8. Kenny Sloth says:

    I think Jordan Matthews is the third best receiver in this draft, behind Watkins, then Evans.

    If Matthews is there at 32 (unlikely) then he’s got to be a target for Seattle.

    6’3 210. 10.5 in. hands. Totally chiseled frame. He boxes out well and controls corners. Consistently gets open.

    Looks faster than his projected 4.55 fourty time. Looks like a 4.49 at most. He can outrun an SEC defense. Good enough for me.

    • Rob Staton says:

      Not sure I agree here Kenny. For me Matthews is a solid R2-3 guy.

      • Kenny Sloth says:

        He’s probably the second strongest receiver in this class. He just plays with so much grace. It’s easy to fall in love with his skillset. Physical and technical. You’re right, though, it’d be a reach.

    • bigDhawk says:

      Cody Latimer – whom I linked above – is essential the same player as Matthews, maybe a tick better in some regards, and will probably be had two to three rounds later than Matthews. I like Matthews, but if an almost exact comp can be found later in the draft it is not a good use of draft capital to take Matthews early. Use your high draft picks on starting talent that can not be approximated in later rounds, ideally. This is the best draft for WRs in some time, so drafting one early better be an absolute grand slam of a pick.

  9. Gramsci says:

    It appears that most of the draft sites have WR Coleman falling to the third round or lower.

    • bigDhawk says:

      There is no way he falls that far unless he completely lays an egg at the combine or has health issues on a physical. I do hope he at least falls past us because I think almost as good talent – or maybe even better in the long run – can be found later on in this significantly deep WR draft.

    • Rob Staton says:

      Most of the draft sites said the same about Bruce Irvin.

  10. Kyle says:

    On a side note, according to Walterfootball (Charlie Campbell was at the Senior Bowl) the Hawks have shown interest in Coastal Carolina RB Lorenzo Taliaferro
    6-2
    230 lbs
    276 rushes
    1729 yards (6.3 avg)
    27 TDs

    • Kyle says:

      correction, his Senior Bowl official weigh in was at 6 feet and 3/8th inches and 231 lbs. I could not find and youtube video of him, but I found this set of highlights from between 2010 and 2011 when he was at Lackawanna Junior College in PA.
      http://www.hudl.com/athlete/o/439785/highlights/2568422

      One this to note is that he is a good blocker and he likes to hit. Chances are that he may end up an UDFA, but if Carroll and Schneider are going to bring in some competition, Taliaferro has the size and physicality that is pretty attractive to the Hawks style.

      • bigDhawk says:

        Here is a video of him at Coastal Carolina:

        http://draftbreakdown.com/players/lorenzo-taliaferro/

        The ‘Hawks have brought in several of these 230#-ish RBs of late and they all seem to turn into fullback prospects. He does display versatility, though. In those JUCO videos on hudl I saw him lined up at TE, slot receiver, punt returner, KO returner, and he even ran down a punt return from behind on defense to save a touchdown. He was clearly a man among boys at the JUCO level but was less dominant in the CC video. I think we already have this guy on the roster in Derrick Coleman. Don’t really see why we need another, unless they think he can be a force on ST where CMike has not. (Speaking of CMike, wonder if Jacksonville would give us their third round pick for him, hmmm….)

        Funny RBs should be brought up. I was just looking at some recently for fun and saw a couple interesting players. I think the sweet spot for finding a RB that has some of the qualities we currently enjoy in Beast is at around 5’10″ – 6’1″ and around 200# – 215#. I’ve not seen any big, 230#-plus backs that I’m sold on yet, including Hyde.

        http://draftbreakdown.com/players/david-fluellen/
        David Fleullen, Toledo, SR, 5’11″, 226#:
        This guy is a bit bigger than Beast, but built just like him. He has a thick, powerful looking upper body, with long, muscular legs. And with this physique he moves a lot like Beast, too. Watch the video linked above vs E. Washington, and you might swear you are watching old footage of Marshawn back in the day at Cal/Berkley. He consistently makes one-cut jukes running downhill that make defenders look silly and always falls forward. He is maybe not quite as strong or violent as Beast (no one ever will be), but the rest of Fleullen’s game seems clearly modeled after him.

        http://draftbreakdown.com/players/isaiah-crowell/
        Isaiah Crowell, Alabama St, JR (declared), 5’11″, 215#:
        This guy is almost exactly Marshawn’s size, but built a little different – the legs are a little shorter and thicker while the upper body a bit longer and thinner. However he runs with a power, agility, and violence that is very reminiscent of Beast. Watch the 2013 video vs Jackson St and there is a play or two where he runs into a pile, only to emerge on the other side and break away for a long TD – total Beastmode. He was previously a player at Georgia in the SEC, but somehow ended up at Alabama St. Don’t know the story on that, but otherwise he looks like a stud. If he can be a contributor on ST, he could be really good NFL player.

        I’m not at all looking to replace Beast. I hope he produces for us at his current level for the rest of his current contract and beyond. I dread the day when we must eventually move on, and I hope we all realize what a truly special, even historic player he is and how privileged we are to be watching him in this golden era of Seahawks football that is just beginning. But when that parting day comes, hopefully a lot later than sooner, I hope it is with a player very similar to him on the roster, like one of these two guys above.