MOBILE, AL—Aaron Donald isn’t likely to rise as high or as sharply as Eric Fisher did last year when Fisher rode a stunning performance at the Senior Bowl to the No. 1 pick of the NFL draft, but Donald opened some eyes and likely made some money on Monday.
Donald, a smallish defensive tackle who swept every major defensive honor in college football this past season, authored a Fisher-like moment in the North practice when Donald pancaked Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, a man five inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Donald.
“There was always bad talk about me because of my size, but if you can play the game, you can play the game,” Donald said.
Listed at 6-0, 285, Donald was the ACC defensive player of the year and winner of the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards. He was, without question, the dominant defensive player in college football this past season.
Clearly, Donald can play the game.
“Hard work paid off. I continually stayed in the weight room. I left (Pitt) as a man,” Donald said.
He was one of the most impressive players at Monday’s weigh-in. Donald came to Mobile ripped and ready to play, and began what he hopes will be a postseason charge into the first round of the draft.
How high Donald rises will likely be determined by where teams project him to play. He appears to fit as a three-technique tackle in a 4-3; he twice beat Richardson with quickness, blowing by his blocker to blow up the play.
Donald once nearly beat the ball back to the quarterback. Donald was unblockable.
“I’m only 6-1 so I have the leverage and I have the power to get them off me,” Donald said.
His first step was even more devastating. Donald’s performance on Monday had his agent smiling for all to see.
Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, another undersized prospect at 5-11, 246, also turned in a strong performance in the North practice.
Here are some notes from day one:
Minnesota defensive tackle Re’Shede Hageman is the opposite of Donald. Hageman is a giant of a prospect at 6-6, 311, and is ticketed for the first round on size and talent alone. He could shoot up into the top half of the first round with an impressive display this week, and he began that pursuit on Monday with a strong effort and a lot of energy.
As Wisconsin fans would expect, Jared Abbrederis was the most consistent and polished of all the North wide receivers. He took the ball away from Wyoming cornerback Marqueston Huff on a deep pass along the sideline.
Quarterback Derek Carr was the star of the South practice. The Fresno State quarterback was on the money with nearly all of his passes and he threw on the move and on time. Carr could move up boards as E.J. Manuel did a year ago when the rest of the quarterback crop did little to impress. The rest of this year’s quarterback crop was unimpressive on Monday.
Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid, 6-2, 305, won “Mr. Universe” at Monday’s weigh-in. He’s got the physical tools to play in the NFL. The scouts want to know if Reid is committed to football. He’s a young man with options and he’s spoken freely of those options.
Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard was a late scratch, opting not to play in the Senior Bowl. Dennard is considered to be one of the top two senior cornerbacks and the immediate reaction to his decision not to play in the game is one of suspicion.
Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu is a player to watch. He was a premier pass rusher as a defensive end but was moved in 2013 to outside linebacker, which is where he might fit best in the NFL, in a 3-4. He came on strong in the second half of the season and he looked forceful on Monday.
Alabama’s Adrian Hubbard, a rangy outside linebacker at 6-6, 252, moved gracefully and had the look of a guy with room to grow into his frame. Hubbard has the kind of length scouts and coaches love for today’s game.
Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, 6-3, 206, is the top senior wide receiver and made a graceful over-the-shoulder catch in Monday’s practice. Packers.com draft guru Tony Pauline compared Matthews to Jordy Nelson.
Remember this name: Dee Ford of Auburn. He’s a defensive end with outside linebacker size, 6-2, 240. He was injured early in the season and didn’t come on strong until late in the season. He’s an explosive pass rusher.