In each of his last three seasons, has recorded at least 16 stops behind the line of scrimmage. His average of 2.19 tackles-for-loss per game ranks 13th in the history of NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision action, as his final total of 66.0 stops for lost yardage of 315 is fourth-best in college football annals. His 28.5 stops-for-loss as a senior ranks as the seventh-best season total by a FBS player.
Known more for chasing down ball-carriers, Donald still managed to register 43 quarterback pressures, as 15 of those resulted in turnovers (fumbles or interceptions) by the opposition. He took those passers down 29.5 times, the fourth-best career total by a Panther and tied for 23rd on the NCAA all-time record sheet.
Among active players in the major-college ranks, Donald, whose 28.5 tackles-for-loss last season led the nation, ranks second with 66 solo tackles behind the line of scrimmage. His tackle-for-loss yardage (315) placed third among active players and his sack-yardage figure of minus-200 yards rank fourth. He also finished fourth within that group for both solo sacks (28) and total sacks (29.5).
Donald proved he was college football's most disruptive defensive player, winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors, the Bednarik Award, the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy, just to name a few. Donald continued that with a successful week at the Senior Bowl — both in practices and the actual game itself. "I don't know if he was the story at the Senior Bowl, but he was certainly one of the bigger ones," Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst said.
Having won every conceivable award a defensive player can place in his trophy case after his senior season, it was nearly unanimous that Donald's performance throughout the week-long practices leading up to the 2014 Senior Bowl, was the best for any of the over 100 players in attendance down in Mobile. Donald would then put on another eye-opening performance for team decision-makers at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, further cementing his rightful place as the unquestioned best defensive tackle in this year's draft pool.
During player measurements, Donald checked in at a stout 6:00.6, but showed very good hand size (9 7/8-inches), adequate arm length (32 5/8-inches) and a nice wing span (77 5/8-inches), easing any thoughts that the shorter-than-ideal defender would come in with "T-Rex" like arms. In the weight room, he put up the 225-pound bar 35 times, best for all defensive tackles in attendance and second-best for all down linemen in Indianapolis.
Donald then went out on to the field, running a blistering 1.63-second 10-yard time, topping all linemen. His 40-yard dash clocking of 4.68 also bested any defensive tackle that showed up for the event and was fifth-best overall among all the linemen. He added a 32-inch vertical jump and 9'08" broad jump, proving that his eleven pass deflections at the line of scrimmage came from great timing and equally great athletic ability.
Donald would end the day by performing in the shuttle drills. In the three-cone testing, he finished at 7.11 seconds, better than all defensive tackles and ranking fourth best for all linemen at the 2014 gathering. After meeting with 11 teams in Indianapolis before heading home, it was almost certain that the Pittsburgh standout had reached his ultimate goal — proving to all that he was a legitimate first round prospect.
Further evidence to that fact was the massive throng of scouts and coaches that arrived in Pittsburgh for the Panthers' March 3 Pro Day. While there were other Pitt players to look at, it was obvious to all in attendance that Donald was the headliner.
"All I did today was position drills, that was it, I retired my 40 cleats," Donald joked. "It was my choice. I know what I did at Indianapolis. I felt like I didn't need to show them much more about what I did. Today, I just did position drills." The list of dignitaries to get one last glimpse of Donald in person included NFL head coaches Bill O'Brien and Chip Kelly.
Seeing Donald during Pro Day was simply a formality, because every other piece of pertinent information that a team would need on the defensive tackle had been well-proven. But many things, in regards to football aside from his senior year trophy case, a number of other things have popped up in interviews. For example, the fact that Donald has played nearly every position in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
"I got experience at every position," Donald said. I played three (technique), I played five, I played defensive end, I played 3-4 with coach [Todd] Graham. I've got experience at every position. So that's a plus for me. Just to know that I'm versatile on the defensive line. That's going to help me out. I got experience at every position, and they can trust me at every position."
University of Pittsburgh Panthers
Donald has a compact frame with solid muscle tone, thick chest, broad shoulders, thick thighs and calves and a good bubble. He has low body fat and could use more bulk on his frame, especially if he is to remain on the defensive line, but you don't want him to overdo it, as his quickness is one of his better assets. He has a nice wing-span in proportion with his size (77 5/8-inches), evident by the way he extends his arms to stave off blockers attempting to get into his chest. He also possesses big hands (9 7/8-inches) to latch on to a ball-carriers jersey and drag the runner down.
Donald is a solidly built defender with excellent explosion and quickness to get to the football. He is the type of player who shows excellent field awareness, evident by his consistency in coming up with big plays in tight areas (see 2013 New Mexico, Virginia and Georgia Tech games). He plays with tough aggression and is a disruptive force that needs to be accounted for on every play. He has fluid change-of-direction skills and a very quick first step. His flexibility and balance allow him to flow with the play while working down the line. He also displays fluid knee bend, hip flip and balance to stay up on his feet. You can see on film that he is a quick-twitch player with natural movement ability, especially when he maintains balance jumping over trash to make the play.
There may not be a better guy to coach. Donald does all that is asked and is not a showboat — he just comes to play. He is a respected leader, despite just one season of starting experience and always plays at a high tempo. He is an outstanding worker on the field who has a true passion for the game. He is the type of player that brings out the best in his teammates, either by setting an example or pushing his mates to play better. He plays with outstanding football instincts and is a smart player who will have no problem taking plays from the chalkboard to the playing field.
Donald's motor is constantly running and he has impressive football toughness. He plays hard, practices with very good effort and purpose, showing a strong desire to excel at his craft. When he keeps his pad level down, he's extremely tough to block, as he "plays on all cylinders" until the whistle. He knows that there are some limitations taking on massive blockers, but he is very aggressive fighting off reach blocks and looks to be around the ball and make every play. He has a very good feel for the game, especially for a player that was relegated to reserve duty for two seasons before the coaches "unleashed" him on opponents as a junior. He does a fine job of gaining leverage at the point of attack and can adjust on the run, as he is best when he plays a variety of positions (stunts), whether shooting the gaps or coming off the edge.
Coming off the snap, Donald shows excellent quickness to get into the offensive lineman. He has explosive closing speed and does a superb job of anticipating the play (see 2013 Virginia, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech games). His initial step lets him consistently beat tackles coming off the edge. He does a very good job of timing his jumps and uses his leg drive effectively to redirect. You can see on film how effortless he looks with his movement skills and when he keeps his hands inside his frame, he is able to get a good push off the block and slip underneath with a very fluid swim move. He's cat-quick at the Xs and with that outstanding first step, there is no offensive lineman at any level that can mirror him once he gets into the backfield.
Strength at Point
Donald understands leverage and has very active hands, but must keep them inside his frame, as blockers do have some success rooting him out when he exposes his chest (weight disadvantage comes into play there). He shows very good outside arm-free strength and leverage and is rarely blown off the ball when he plays at the proper pad level. He can get across face quickly and has the lower body strength and flexibility to sink his hips, drop his weight and gain leverage. He has the arm power and body control to split double teams, but is better served on the move than playing "Rock ‘Em/Sock ‘Em Robots" in the trench wars. It is his quickness that lets him beat most blocks. You can see on film (see 2013 Virginia, North Carolina, Syracuse and Bowling Green games) that he is stronger than he looks. If he stays within his "game" by keeping his pads down, he's extremely difficult to block, but he will get washed on down blocks when he gets upright in his stance. I really like his extension and anchor when inverting tight ends and the quick spin moves he has to slip past double teams. He also shows outstanding flexibility to sit in the crease and hold at the point of attack vs. lead blockers.
Use of Hands
Donald shows very good effort against the double team and protects his legs by using his hands effectively to keep blockers off his body, but when he gets his hands away from his frame and leaves his chest exposed, it results in blockers being able to wash him on the play (see 2011 Wisconsin game). He has good hand strength and very quick arms, playing with authority when he locks on. With that decent reach of his, he should have no issues separating from one-on-one blockers at the next level. Few defenders are as quick in getting their hands up to engage and control blockers like this Panther can. He is active extending to separate and disengages quick to bounce off his blocker to make the play.
Donald stays on his feet and pursues well. He has a very active motor and is rarely taken off his feet. His change-of-direction agility and straight-ahead burst are very effective in letting him close in the short area (see 2013 Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech games). He can skate, string plays out, catch a play from behind and can easily "back door" plays, thanks to his consistent motor. The thing I really like, evident by his high amount of forced fumbles in 2013, is that he never seems to tire or give up on the play when in pursuit, which allows him to possess an outstanding closing burst. Thanks to his low center of gravity and active hands, Donald excels at fending off cuts and low blocks. He changes with good angles to the next level and has more than enough agility, balance and speed to move through traffic.
Donald is a strong tackler who will strike and deliver a blow, but has to be conscious of wrapping the outside leg of ball-carriers, or he will be dragged for extra yardage. He is very effective as a drag-down tackler after the chase and is also adept at stopping the ball-carrier at the line of scrimmage with his leg drive and wrap-up tackling technique (see 2013 New Mexico, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Syracuse games). He will hit with good explosion when working in the short area and makes fluid body adjustments when working in space. He is a good striker in the box when he maintains proper pad level and is able to bend, roll his hips and drive with force to push the ball-carrier back and impede forward progress (on 49 running plays in 2013, only once did a ball-carrier run for over ten yards vs. the defender). You can see on film that despite his lack of ideal size, he has the strength to lock up and the quickness and power to deliver the explosive hit. Because he always seems to gain position when around the ball, it is very rare to see him slide off his tackles.
Donald can get a side and keep it, using his lower body to hold at the point of attack, despite giving up lots of bulk to the offensive tackle. When he gets a little high in his stance, he struggles to shed. His explosion off the ball has seen him wreak havoc in the backfield (see 2013 Bowling Green, Syracuse and Georgia Tech games), where he recorded 28.5 stops in 2013, seventh-best in a season by an NCAA FBS performer. With his arm extension, he should be capable of gaining advantage when trying to stack, and with that cat-like foot speed, he is perfectly able to get off blocks in quick fashion. As his body is still developing, he does a much better job of taking on tight ends and lead blockers than combating offensive tackles, as he does get wired to "big people" blocks at the Xs some, but he is not the type to spend much time playing games with the big blockers, as he much rather escape and make plays on the ball (see 2013 Virginia and North Carolina games). You can also see that he is a physical hip-roll tackler working in-line (makes quite a few plays up the middle of the line). What makes Donald a rarity is his ability to play just as effectively on the move and stunting as he is when anchoring and reading, as he has more than enough strength to shed and the hip roll needed when tackling in-line.
As a pass rusher, Donald can beat you with either his speed or power. He has very good body control and excellent hip snap. His hand usage and quick burst off the snap lets him consistently pressure the quarterback (see 2013 New Mexico, Virginia and Virginia Tech games). He also has very good confidence in using his rip and club moves on the bull rush and has very good agility to spin away from the initial block and stymie the counter moves. He generates great power in his initial surge and while he is more effective on the bull rush, he has the ability to wreak havoc in the backfield when trying to flush out the quarterback (see 2013 Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Bowling Green games). He can turn the corner and shows good counter moves to come underneath and make the play. His lower body strength lets him push the pocket and he displays very good urgency to get to the quarterback. When he extends his arms and uses good forward body lean, he has had very good success pressing the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle, as he shows flexibility and leverage to go with an explosive burst to close on the pocket. He also has the loose hips you want in an edge rusher who can consistently turn the corner (Donald often stunts and moves around the line, as seven of 11 sacks last season came from the strong-side end position, but 20 of his 28.5 tackles-for-loss came from shooting the inside gaps).
Closing on the Quarterback
Donald shows good acceleration out of his stance to blow past the offensive tackle. He's effective at escaping blocks playing off the edge, but is much better at impacting the backfield on inside stunts, where he brute strength, low center of gravity and hand usage consistently sees him walk the offensive lineman back into the pocket. As a senior, he caused seven turnovers via sixteen QB pressures in 2013 (see Virginia and Georgia Tech games). When he breaks free from the in-line blockers, he is able to use his hands to play with leverage and control. Donald is relentless.And quick when slanting, as he consistently fends off low blocks, flattens vs. the run away and flashes an explosive burst to close. He separates in the open with a surge and is just too tough to block one-on-one.
Donald has a good feel to read and locate the ball. He is best when he reacts quickly, as sometimes he looks a little mechanical when he plans his moves. He will not be fooled by fakes and play action. His flow to the ball comes with no hesitation. And he has a nice feel for blocks and where they are coming from (rare to see him surprised or caught out of position). With his quickness and a lack of bulk, he could move to inside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, but might be a great fit for the under-tackle position utilized by Dallas at the next level, as he has valid instincts to read block pressure and locate the ball in a crowd (see 2013 Virginia, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina games). Once he recognizes the scheme, he is sudden in reacting to it. He is al all-out battler who looks instinctive and athletic on the move, and it is very rare to see him fooled or caught out of position on naked bootlegs coming to him.
GENO ATKINS, Cincinnati: Teams were not high on Atkins during the 2010 draft and it resulted in the Bengals unearthing a talent that will the anchor for their improving defense for years to come. Unlike Atkins, Donald will not wait until the fourth round to hear his name called. For all of the athleticism displayed by Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, it is Donald who stands at the top of The NFL Draft Report's draft rating board. A team like Dallas, that features the under-tackle position, would be wise to scoop up the Panther early, as he can form a great interior tandem for the Pokes, alongside recently signed Henry Melton.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.