Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 4/25/14
There are dozens to choose from, but there is one play from Aaron Donald’s remarkable senior season that stands alone as his favorite. It was early in the first quarter against Duke, with the Blue Devils driving. On a second-and-10, they ran an option play in the red zone. As the guard lined up across from him pulled, Donald knifed into the backfield. Rather than make a choice between running back and quarterback, Donald swung his right arm around one and his left around the other, dragging both to the ground four yards in the backfield. “I didn’t realize I did it until we watched the film the same night,” Donald says now. “I caught the pull, got through the pull, and got the QB and the RB and tackled them at the same time. I saw it and was like, ‘Really?’” A lot of people found themselves saying “Really?” while watching Donald’s final season at the University of Pittsburgh. He took home every major award a defensive lineman can win: the Outland Trophy, the Nagurski Trophy, the Bednarik Award, and the Lombardi Award. Donald led the nation in tackles for loss, with five and a half more than any player in the country. His 11 sacks were good for 12th in FBS; again, he plays defensive tackle. There was just one major concern, according to draft folks: He was too small. At just 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, Donald lacked the ideal size for an NFL defensive lineman — not bulky enough to play tackle, not long enough to play end. Despite being the most productive defensive player in college football, Donald was penciled into the second round, a typical landing spot for successful college players with one glaring NFL flaw. When the draft process actually started up with the Senior Bowl in late January, that concern fell by the wayside. Donald dominated an entire week of practices in Mobile, Alabama, against the best senior offensive linemen in the country. Nearly every account of the proceedings listed him as the most impressive player there. “It’s a résumé,” Donald says of his Senior Bowl week. “I’m making a résumé for myself, trying to get that job at the next level. It’s always good to show that what you’re doing is who you are, what you see on film in the regular season is what you’re seeing at the Senior Bowl.” The Senior Bowl carries a lot of weight come draft time because it’s actual football; Eric Fisher parlayed his excellent week of practices into being the no. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. The combine is not actual football, but for some players, it’s still a chance to do something athletically eye-popping that coaches (who are just getting their hands into the draft process) fall in love with. Donald wasn’t considered a player most expected to have that sort of combine weekend in Indianapolis, but if you can’t tell, there’s a theme developing here.
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