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North DL: Donald dominates

Tue, Feb 04, 2014

By Phil Savage

North DL

This group was headlined by All-Everything DT Aaron Donald and first team All-Big Ten selection Ra’Shede Hageman and neither disappointed during the week. There are three requirements for success as a defensive linemen in the NFL: to defend the run at the point-of-attack, to chase the football from the back-side and to rush the passer.

1. #97 Aaron Donald/Pittsburgh    DT   6007/288   31 3-4” Arm/9 7-8” Hand 

Aaron got off the bus with quickness on Monday and never looked back over the next three days. Yes, he is undersized by NFL standards, however, he has explosiveness in his hands and the burst to accelerate around or through offensive blockers. Front-side blocks can be problematic due to his overall girth, but when he attacks with his hands on the inside, he can separate and make tackles. On the back-side of blocks, he simply is too athletic to be cut off and will track down ball carriers down the line-of-scrimmage. His pass rush technique is outstanding and he should be able to contribute on Sub downs immediately as a rookie. He combines exceptional initial and lateral quickness in his lower body with his active hands and ability to get “skinny” through a gap. Aaron should go in the top 50 picks and will be expected to contribute right away in 2014.

1-on-1 PASS RUSH: Wins: 12     Losses: 3

SENIOR BOWL SCOOP: The most decorated player in college football for 2013, he received the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and Outland Awards in addition to being a consensus All-American. Aaron totaled 64 tackles, 18.5 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks as a senior.

NFL CAREER FORECAST: Starter (within first season)

2. #99 Ra’Shede Hageman/Minnesota       DT   6060/318   33 3-4” Arm/9 5-8” Hand

Ra’Shede has all the physical measurables required by NFL teams. At 6060/318 and with 33 3-4” arms, he fits as a 4-3 DT or 3-4 DE, so he is scheme friendly for all 32 clubs. He flashes rare athletic skills and is difficult to knock off his feet. Against direct runs, he has the size to anchor and hold his ground, yet possesses the quickness and balance to chase from the backside. As a pass rusher, he is hit-and-miss, however, there is enough bend and strength to push the pocket and enough lateral quickness to get through half-a-man. Ra’Shede is an intriguing prospect because he possesses a ton of natural gifts, his drafting team will have to be convinced that they can help him reach his full potential before investing a high draft pick.

1-on-1 PASS RUSH: Wins: 6     Losses: 9

SENIOR BOWL SCOOP: In high school, Ra’Shede was an accomplished basketball player and mostly played tight end during his prep career. During his redshirt season in 2009, he made the move to the defensive line.

NFL CAREER FORECAST: Eventual Starter (within two seasons)

3. #94 Will Clarke/West Virginia    DE   6061/271   33 3-8” Arm/9 1-2” Hand

Will earned an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl through his efforts and success at the East-West Shrine game the week before in St. Petersburg, FL. On the hoof, he looks 240lbs, but measured in at 6061/271. At present, he fits as a 4-3 DE, but may end up growing into a 5-technique 3-4 DE. Will has a quick first step and a subtle closing burst to the QB when he gets close. He needs to play lower when confronting direct runs, but has enough agility to pursue from the backside. He will have a busy spring because all 32 NFL teams will want to get to know this “under-the-radar” prospect better prior to the draft in May.

1-on-1 PASS RUSH: Wins: 2      Losses: 3

SENIOR BOWL SCOOP: A criminology major, Will wants to go into forensics after his playing days end. He registered 49 total tackles, 17 tackles-for-loss and 6 sacks as a senior to earn 2nd team All-Big 12 honors.

NFL CAREER FORECAST: Developmental/Potential Starter (within three seasons)

Best of the Rest:

#92 Justin Ellis/Louisiana Tech      DT

Another East-West Shrine promotion, Justin has a classic Nose Tackle built with that kind of power. Not a stationary player, he has more movement skills than most anticipated.

#98 James Gayle/Virginia Tech       DE

In an understated way, James just finds a way to get involved in the run game and as a pass rusher. He has better than average athletic ability, but plays hard and should be able to make a team in 2014 as a backup.

#59 Shamar Stephen/UConn          DT

One of the real unknown prospects coming into the week, Shamar gave glimpses of pass rush ability, in addition to having the size/strength to defend the run. He should be a 3rd-day consideration in the 2014 NFL Draft. 

Phil Savage Phil Savage is the Executive Director of the Senior Bowl. He worked 20 years in the NFL as a coach, scout and executive, including two years as the Director of Player Personnel for the Baltimore Ravens and four years as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns.