Name: Aaron Donald
School: University of Pittsburgh
Size: 6'1, 290 lbs
Expected Round: 1st, end of the round
Strengths: Very quick first step off the snap. Able to get opposing linemen on their heels. Able to get skinny to shoot the gap, before exploding in the backfield. Holds the point surprisingly well against single teams and is able to disengage to make plays on the ball carrier. Violent and active hands when engaged. Always impacts a play, regardless of whether or not he makes the final move (redirects the runner, forces the quarterback to scramble). Tightly coiled spin move. Has a wide-array of rushing moves (spin, swim, bull). High effort, plays to the whistle. Great closing speed.
Weaknesses: Can over-commit in his aggression (note: this was a criticism I gave J.J. Watt. It can be harnessed), leaving open lanes. Lacks ideal length to eat space and make stretch plays. Sometimes leads with his shoulder into opposing blockers, opening him to experienced blockers to spin him, or seal him out of position. Finds himself sealed out of double-teams (think of Chris Jones against the Texans).
What is their role? Donald fits perfectly next to Vince Wilfork or whoever the Patriots have playing nose tackle. He can peel his ears back and make plays in the opposing backfield, while the nose tackle guards the gaps. He can step in as a day one starter with plenty of upside as he polishes.
Will it change from year 1 to year 2? He may be undersized to play every snap at DT. Between year one and two, look for him to either gain weight or get stronger in order to project as an undeniable every-down player in year 2.
How many downs can he play? He can play three downs. He's active against both the pass and the run. He provides limited value on fourth down scenarios, but he can provide push on kicking units.
Which current player will he beat out? Joe Vellano. Chris Jones. Armond Armstead. Cory Grissom. Tommy Kelly? I expect Jones to stick around another season, although I wouldn't be surprised if Belichick kept Vellano. Kelly will have to renegotiate in order to stay and, if he does, he's locke din. Armstead is a question mark. Donald had more upside than any of these players, although he'll have to learn how to transition into the NFL.
What’s his ST value? Minimal, apart from the kick blocking unit.
Does he have positional versatility? He can play defensive tackle, nose tackle, and some 3-4 defensive end, but he's locked into the defensive interior.
Why the Patriots? Never judge based on stats, but Aaron Donald is a total freak. He's one of three players since 2000 to notch 65+ TFLs and 25+ sacks in their college career, and the other two are defensive ends (one is consensus top 10 pick Khalil Mack). Donald fits a definite need of the Patriots (interior pressure on defense) and he complements the larger Wilfork and Sealver Siliga. He provides a skill set the Patriots can't find later in the draft and he's an undeniable success. He's a perfect 3-tech for the defense.
Why not the Patriots? His stock keeps rising. Formerly considered a top 50 pick, he moved into the top 40 with a strong finish to the season and locked himself into the first round with a fantastic Senior Bowl performance. If he has a tremendous combine showing, there's a high chance the Patriots will have to move into the low 20s in order to grab him. If the Patriots think there are better alternatives (Timmy Jernigan? Will Sutton? Stephon Tuitt? Rashede Hageman?), they could wait out the first round and see what's left over. Additionally, his skill set of "attack-mode" is kind of outside the Patriots traditional view in their defensive tackles.
Verdict: Donald is the perfect fit for the Patriots and people are hesitantly comparing him to the Bengals Geno Atkins. The only question about Donald is whether the team wants to amend its defensive scheme to incorporate his skill set (and they've done that to accommodate Aqib Talib's press ability). I might even argue for Donald's selection over anyone on offense, due to his potential as an elite defender. In the end, though, I think he goes around the top 20 and is just outside the Patriots' price range.