In July, at the ACC Football Media Days event, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald said his NFL role model is Cincinnati's Geno Atkins.
It will make Donald happy, then, that NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock compared him to Atkins on NFL Network during Wednesday's coverage of the Reese's Senior Bowl practices. Another reason for Donald to smile is that Atkins signed a giant contract extension in September.
Fellow analyst Bucky Brooks made the Atkins comparison in November.
Donald measured in at 6-foot and 288 pounds during Monday's Senior Bowl weigh-in, and his lack of size is seen as a detriment by some scouts. But Donald's production this season was incredible; he finished with a nation-leading 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, and was a consensus first-team All-American.
Mayock called Donald an "explosive, one-gap penetrator" and said he fits best in a four-man front. Specifically, Mayock said Donald fits best on a team that is aggressive with its four-man front.
"Think Tampa Bay. Think Chicago. Think Tennessee. Think St. Louis," Mayock said. "Four-man front teams whose coaches like to get up the field and be disruptive."
Atkins was a fourth-round pick out of Georgia in 2010 by the Bengals. What about Donald's draft stock? "Can he be a first-round pick?' Mayock said. "He's done everything he needed to do so far this week. It's a long process. Right now, I believe he's a borderline first- or second-round guy."
Donald finished his college career with 66 tackles for loss and 29.5 sacks and 27 quarterback hurries. He played end as a sophomore in 2011, then moved inside the past two seasons.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.