NFL Prospect Focus: Aaron Donald and William Clark
Pitt and West Virginia are about a 75-minute drive apart. Until recently, they have always been fierce rivals in the old Big East. This year, each school has a highly rated defensive line prospect for next May’s NFL Draft. Pitt Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has won a slew of post-season awards including the Outland Trophy and West Virginia’s William Clark is interesting because of his height and overall athleticism. Let’s look at their games.
Aaron Donald - Pittsburgh
Donald is a fourth-year senior and a three-year starter at defensive tackle. Out of high school, he was rated as a three-star prospect but was not highly recruited. Many of his offers were from MAC schools. The reason for this was his height, or lack thereof. Donald measures only 6000 and has a play weight of around 290. That lack of ideal size did not stop him from having dominating performances.
Donald lines up as a three-technique in Pitt's 4-3 scheme. While he lacks ideal height, he has long arms, is very strong, and is a very good athlete. His initial quickness is exceptional. He, often, is past his opponent before they can get a hand on him. He has very good instincts and reactions and is consistently around the ball. In the run game, he is very disruptive because of his ability to shed blocks and penetrate. This year, he had 26.5 tackles for loss. He is highly competitive with a non-stop motor and is a relentless pursuit player.
Aaron is also a top inside pass rusher. He has quick hands and very good inside hand use. He has the skill set to set up blockers with both his hands and feet. He shows a variety of moves and uses counter moves effectively. Going into their Bowl game, Donald has 10 sacks this year and close to 30 for his career. Donald’s size, athleticism and skill set say he is best suited to play as a three-technique for a one-gap 4-3 defense in the NFL. A team that plays that scheme could very well draft him high. I doubt the 3-4 teams will be that interested. He is not a two-gap type player and can have some trouble with double teams. In the right scheme, he can be a very effective pro.
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William Clark – West Virginia
Clark is an interesting player to watch. He plays defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, though with his body type he is better suited to be a 4-3 end. Clark is a very tall, long armed athlete. He is listed as being 6’7" – 275. He has a lean build but looks as though he could easily gain 20 pounds.
As an athlete, he shows good change of direction, body control, and flexibility. He can bend, is light on his feet, and can run well. His play speed is about 4.88. Clark is said to be a top performer in the weight room, but on the field he plays with good but not great strength and power.
Clark has just average instincts, and he can be a bit slow to find the ball. He is not an instant reactor. At the snap, he sometimes gets tall and looks to find the ball. Because of this he can be slow to shed. He looks like a much better player when he just goes. When that happens, he plays lower and gets rid of blocks faster.
Clark plays hard, I have no problem with his competitive nature. He flashes both as a run defender and a pass rusher. When rushing the passer, he flashes a good bull rush but can also use moves and dip his shoulder to get under his opponent. While he didn’t get a high number of sacks (six), he gets a lot of pressures. He also does a good job getting his hands up to disrupt a throw. In the run game, he is inconsistent. Because he can be slow to react it takes him out of some plays. Still, when he is on he can shed quickly and make plays. He will chase the ball and has caught plays from behind.
I feel the 4-3 teams will have more interest in Clark than the 3-4 teams. Though he does have two-gap skills, his body type is more suited to be a 4-3 end. He needs to get a lot bigger to hold up at the point in a 3-4 scheme. Unless I see more at an All-star game, I see Clark as a mid-round pick who will be a productive backup/rotational type player in the NFL.