The copycat nature of the NFL leads scouts to search for prospects with characteristics similar to those of the elite players at their respective positions. Comparisons don't always accurately project a prospect's potential, but they provide coaches and scouts with a picture of what the future could hold if a player develops to his full potential. One player certain to draw interest based on the rapid development of Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins is Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald.
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Measuring 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, Donald nearly matches Atkins' (6-foot-1, 303 pounds) physical dimensions, but it is his explosive quickness, athleticism and disruptive game that has scouts comparing him to the Bengals' star.
Donald wreaks havoc on opposing backfields with his remarkable first-step quickness, yet displays enough strength and power to win with physicality. With few offensive linemen capable of dealing with defenders with diverse games, Donald has consistently delivered disruptive plays for the Panthers' defense. He leads the nation with 22.5 tackles for loss and is tied for sixth in the country with 10 sacks. Those numbers are impressive for a pass rusher, particularly an interior defender rarely given free runs to the quarterback off the edge.
Watching Donald's performance against North Carolina, I believe the comparisons to Atkins are valid based on his ability to take over the game from his interior position. Donald's first-step quickness and burst jumps off the screen. He routinely sneaks past blockers on finesse moves at the point of attack. Most important, he combines his exceptional athleticism with a strong nose for the ball, leading to consistent disruption in the backfield. Against the Tar Heels, Donald recorded five tackles and three tackles for loss, dominating the action between the tackles. His penetration up the middle neutralized the Tar Heels' inside-zone running game and forced the offense to work on the edges. As a pass rusher, Donald's initial quickness and burst troubled North Carolina's offensive line, leading the quarterback to rely on more quick-rhythm throws as the game progressed.
Although the stat sheet won't reflect Donald's impact as a rusher, his consistent penetration from his interior position will make him a coveted commodity for teams employing attack-style defensive schemes.