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Dirk Koetter: Aaron Donald on same level as J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt is the greatest defensive player of his generation, on pace to challenge Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White and a handful of luminaries as best there ever was.

Now he has company in the form of surging second-year St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has landed on the radar of Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter ahead of Thursday night's matchup.

"Extremely. Extremely (disruptive)," Koetter said Tuesday. "Our scouting department scouts teams a couple of weeks in advance, and they told me that he was on the same level as J.J. Watt. And I thought to myself, 'Wow! That's hard to believe.'

"When it came my time to watch the tape, I said, 'Oh, wow! He's on the same level as J.J. Watt!' I mean, this guy's having a fantastic year, definitely a game-wrecker for this game."

Watt is the gold standard, threatening to join the pantheon of gridiron giants before his 27th birthday. Should we attribute Koetter's claim to hyperbole -- or even worse, to pregame flattery?

It's worth noting that Koetter isn't alone in his high regard for the 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year:

Those metrics were tabulated before Donald smashed through the Detroit Lions' offensive line for three sacks, six quarterback hits and three more tackles for loss in a dominant Week 14 performance that had NFL Media analyst Brian Baldinger shaking his head in wonderment.

"I don't know that there's any pass rusher in the league right now that has a greater arsenal of moves than Aaron Donald," Baldinger raved on Tuesday's edition of Around The NFL. "He has a counter to a counter to a counter. But in order to rush the passer, you have to earn that right. That means you gotta stuff the run. This is a complete player now."

Donald leads all defensive tackles with 11 sacks, while ranking with Baltimore's Brandon Williams and Minnesota's Linval Joseph as the most disruptive interior run stuffers.

With 2.5 more quarterback takedowns in his final three games, Donald would bypass five-time All Pro Kevin Williams for the most through two seasons by any defensive tackle since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

The former Pitt star entered the NFL with an understanding of how to defeat behemoth interior linemen via a unique combination of quickness, leverage and strength that mirrored Cincinnati Bengals star Geno Atkins.

While Atkins is a transcendent talent in his own right, what separates Donald is unparalleled speed off the snap. That quickness is enhanced by a swashbuckler's strong but dexterous hands, a relentless array of moves and the ferocious closing speed of an apex predator.

"In talking to guys in St. Louis, he's studying pass rushers from past generations, from this year's group," Baldinger added, "always looking to add to that arsenal."

Donald is as close as a defensive tackle gets to unblockable, playing at a level that we haven't seen beyond Watt.

Is that package more valuable than a potential franchise quarterback?

In the lead-up to Thursday Night Football, the Around The NFL Podcast debated Tuesday whether it would be more optimal to build around Jameis Winston and Mike Evans or Donald and Todd Gurley.

Which talented young tandem has the edge? Click here to find out.

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