Okay, hear me out on this one. I know the Lions already have two first round DT's they've drafted in the last 4 years. Taking another DT in the first round may not be the sexiest idea, but it could end up being the right one. The #1 DT in this year's draft is believed to be Aaron Donald. I would have to agree with the consensus there, and when you start to watch what he can do on tape, it's hard not to be impressed.
The Lions have two very talented DT's in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Suh and his agent are working on a long-term deal with the Lions, but recent reports say the Lions and Suh are in no rush to get a deal done. Mayhew has also decided not to pick up Fairley's $5.5 million option, and he will become a UFA next offseason. If Fairley ends up having a breakout year, he could end up costing the Lions a lot of money if they decide to re-sign him in 2015. Assuming that the Lions and Suh end up striking a deal within the next year, Mayhew would have a very tough decision to make, especially if Fairley asks for big money. We might end up having to let one of them go, and my money would be on Fairley drawing the short straw.
Let's say the Lions do draft a DT early. Some may think that it's a wasted pick because that player won't start. This is true, but who's to say that he can't have an impact still? Last year, Fairley and Suh combined for a total of 1606 snaps. Suh rested for 158 snaps last year, and Fairley rested for 303 snaps. The Lions rotated DT's and DE's quite a bit last year and even had guys like Mosley, Idonije, Suh and Fairley line up at DE from time to time. Idonije is no longer with the Lions, so that will free up some snaps, and Mosley received about 300+ snaps last year as well. So if the Lions take a DT at #10, you can give them around 200-500 snaps next year. You may not think that's a lot, but that's about normal for a rookie. Reiff was on the field for 336 snaps as a rookie, Fairley had 236, and Ansah had 581. This would allow the Lions to get the player warmed up this year, and have them start in 2015 if you decide to let go Suh or Fairley. There are a lot of options here, and if there was any player to give the Lions a reason to create a DT controversy, that man is Aaron Donald.
Aaron Donald had an outstanding senior year in 2013 and was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He also won 4 different awards including the Chuck Bednarik Award for Defensive Player of the Year. He led the NCAA in tackles for a loss with 28.5 in 2013, and had the 3rd most career TFL with 66, since 2005.
Donald's measurables are pretty incredible for a DT. According to mockdraftable, his percentiles are most comparable to Geno Atkins. Like Atkins, Donald is pretty small for a DT, and has very short arms and hands. This will turn some GM's off, but I don't believe it should be considered a big deal, especially after what we've seen Atkins do on the field. Donald ranks in the 90th percentiles vs. DT's in almost every measurable at the combine, and ran the fastest 10 yard split out of any DT, ever.
Here is an interesting article by Chase Stuart, pointing out just how impressive Donald's combine performance was, comparing the combine results relative to players' height and weight.
Finally, I came up with an overall grade using these four numbers. To do that, I converted each player’s grade relative to expectation in each category into a standard deviations above/below expectation. Then, I added those four values together to come up with a final grade (if a player did not participate in a drill, he is given a zero for that category, which doesn’t hurt or help him). Donald’s 40 times was 2.35 standard deviations above expectation, and he was 2.13 standard deviations above average in the bench press, 2.18 in the three-cone drill, and 0.64 in the vertical jump. Add those four numbers together, and Donald gets a grade of +7.3, the best in the combine.
Donald was invited to the Senior Bowl this year, and was matched up against guys like Baylor OG Cyril Richardson who had a couple inches and 50 pounds on him. Whoever they put on Donald, he was tossing them around like a rag doll all week long during practices, and a lot of teams were reportedly impressed with the DT out of Pittsburgh.
Also, don't forget to check out Rotoworld NFL Draft Expert Greg Peshek's new DT metrics article. Amazing stuff, yet again. Here is a sneak peak:
- We can see that Aaron Donald is nearly twice as efficient in pass rush as the next best DTs on the list. Coming in with a PRR of 6.42, his efficiency getting after the quarterback matches what you’d expect to see from the very best pass rushing linebackers and defensive ends in both college and the NFL. Frankly, this metric is exceptional for a defensive tackle.
When watching Aaron Donald on tape, one thing immediately becomes apparent. This guy can explode off the line of scrimmage and get to the backfield faster than any DT prospect I've seen since Ndamukong Suh. Donald has a ton of moves in his arsenal. When matched up 1-on-1, he does a phenomenal job of using his hands to free himself from blockers and create pressure on the QB.
Look at how quickly Donald is able to get to the QB after using a perfect swim move to disengage from his blocker. Donald is so explosive off the LOS, that the guard is barely even able to get a hand on him before he blows right by him.
In this play, Georgia Tech decides to run a speed option to the left. The LT's job is to go low on Donald and try to slow him down, but as you can see on the replay, he explodes off of the line and the LT barely even touches him. Within a couple seconds after the snap, Donald is already lunging towards the QB, and the QB isn't even given a chance to option the ball off to his RB. Donald has elite short area quickness and strength, and you can see why he led the NCAA in tackles for a loss last year.
One thing GM's will love about Aaron Donald is that he never gives up on plays. If he's getting double-teamed or gets stuffed immediately, every so often he'll still find a way to make a play.
Donald had a monster game against UNC. In the play above, he's lined up as the left DT (DB highlighted the wrong player on this play). The RG makes an attempt to go low on Donald immediately after the snap, and he actually does a decent job of slowing him down. However, Donald doesn't give up on the play, and he is able to regain focus on where the QB is, and ends up with a sack fumble on a vicious hit. Unfortunately for Pitt, UNC maintains possession of the ball, but Donald isn't finished.
On the very next play, Donald lines up as a DE in a 3-4 formation. He's double-teamed by the LT and LG, and they do a good job of containing him initially, but Donald does a great job of driving the LT back to his right, and then spins to his left to disengage from the LG. He isn't able to get a sack here, but he gets enough pressure to limit the damage, and force the QB to throw off of his back foot for a short completion on 3rd and 17. Plays like these are what excite me about Aaron Donald. As a 3-tech DT, being able to line up as a 5-tech DE and beat a double team on 3rd down...that's just unfair.
Why We Should Draft Him
As I said before, the Lions are set at DT this year, but the future of the position is up in the air right now. The Lions have already addressed some of their biggest needs in FA like safety and wide receiver, so going best player available seems like a likely scenario at #10. Donald may not be considered a top 10 pick by many, but he definitely looks the part on tape. If Donald was a few inches taller and 20+ lbs heavier, there is no doubt in my mind he would be considered a top 10 or even top 5 pick. I haven't seen anyone so dominant at their position since Ndamukong Suh, and Donald was able to get consistent pressure in every game he played. He fits the Lions defense perfectly as a pass-rushing 3-tech DT, and is also a force against the run, as evidenced by his high number of TFL. The Lions can select Donald at #10 overall, and still find him a decent number of snaps his rookie year. If they do end up picking him, you would have to assume that either Suh or Fairley would not be in the picture for the future, because taking non-starting role player wouldn't really make a ton of sense at #10.
Why We Shouldn't Draft Him
The Lions have spent their 1st round draft pick on a DT twice already in the past 4 drafts. DT is also not much of a pressing need for the Lions, and taking one with the 10th overall pick would be a waste. There will most likely be players available at other positions like WR or OLB that will see the field more and can have a bigger impact as a rookie, and the Lions have expressed that they want to win now and getting an impact player at #10 is what's important. It's also no guarantee that Donald's dominance at the college level will translate to the NFL as he is very undersized for his position. Geno Atkins could just be an outlier in this case.
The Lions Select Series:
Thanks again for the feedback and support, and rec the post if you like it. Offense is up next. A lot of people seem to be enamored by Jordan Matthews, so I'll probably do a write-up on him. As always, feel free to discuss below and throw out some names you think I should look at.