The 2014 NFL Draft class is filled with talent at defensive tackle, and Pittsburgh Panthers star Aaron Donald emerged as pretty much a sure-fire, first-round pick with his amazing performance at the Senior Bowl. Donald was easily the best defensive player in college football last season, and he brought ridiculous pressure on the quarterback. It’s not surprising to hear Donald say that he models his game after Cincinnati Bengals DT Geno Atkins, who is one of the best defensive players in the NFL and brings interior pressure at a ridiculous rate. Donald does the same, and both were knocked in the pre-draft process by scouts due to a lack of size. The Pitt product’s lack of size hurts him in the running game and gets him out-muscled by top guards, but his instincts and motor also make up for his lack of push at the point of attack in the running game.
Overall, Donald is a great prospect, and that’s why draft insider Tony Pauline has him slapped with a first-round grade in the upcoming draft. Interestingly enough, the only other DT to receive a first-round mark from Pauline is Notre Dame Fighting Irish product Louis Nix, who is more scheme versatile than people think. His space-eating, size, and run D make him best suited as a nose, but he could also succeed in the 4-3 and is a bit better at pushing the pocket than some think.
Both players deserve first-round grades, and I would be a bit surprised if Donald isn’t the first DT taken off of the board. But it was interesting to look at the three names who didn’t make it to the first round on Pauline’s board. Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hagemen is mostly a love ‘em or hate ‘em prospect, and Pauline isn’t high enough on Hagemen to give him a first-round grade. Some believe he should be selected that high, but Pauline is one of those analysts who believes that he should be selected in the second.
Florida State’s disruptive Timmy Jernigan is also given a second-round grade, and Arizona State’s Will Sutton is also projected to be selected in the second round. Those guys are right where they should be, and Pauline has LSU Tigers duo Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson as possible second-round picks (they received the “2-3″ tag).
Tony Pauline is one of the best and most well-connected in the business, so be sure to take his rankings into account as they continue to come out.