Aaron Donald is unquestionably the best pass rushing defensive tackle in the NFL draft, and he might not be a priority for the Chicago Bears.
Donald doesn’t fit the parameters of GM Phil Emery
In terms of explosion and quickness there is nobody more gifted than Donald. He gets out of his stance so fast and is so quick that blockers repeatedly struggle to get a hold of him before it’s too late. His pass rush skill from the interior is rare and would be coveted in the right system. That is why the Bears are widely considered his top destination. The departure of Henry Melton at their three-technique position, the pass rusher spot makes Donald look awfully enticing. This especially after the acquisitions of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston at defensive end. However, there is one rather dubious sticking point that can’t be dismissed. Donald is small. No, not small but he is short. At 6’1″ he doesn’t have ideal length for a defensive tackle nor the long arms that would help him shed blocks, which is why he’s reliant on speed and quickness. Bears GM Phil Emery was asked months ago if he’s learned anything from his experiment with his first defensive line draft pick, Shea McClellin. He responded honestly, stating he would put size and length higher on the list of priorities. If that is true, then Donald doesn’t fit the criteria.
Justin Gilbert and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix offer more upside
Besides, there is a legitimate argument that he might not even be the best player available at #14 for the Chicago Bears to consider. One thing to remember about Emery is he loves athletes first, versatility second and then size if possible. That is why he moved up to get Alshon Jeffery in 2012, took Kyle Long earlier than expected in 2013 and might overlook Donald in favor of a couple other options. Something to remember is that the secondary of the Bears is far from fixed. Their top three corners are all over the age of 30 while their safeties don’t inspire comfort on the back end with Chris Conte still smarting from his colossal miscues last season to Ryan Mundy coming in to start after being a career backup. Both positions could use a quality talent upgrade.
At corner the Bears could look at Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State. He’s fast, lengthy, athletic and couples his great coverage ability with prowess in the return game. A great player with versatility screams “Emery Pick.” Then there is Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Scouts widely consider him the best centerfielder type in the 2014 NFL draft class. He has the length to blanket tight ends, the range to cover sideline to sideline and the instincts to track where quarterback will go with the football. Putting him behind that front with Allen and Houston could prove quite beneficial.
Kelcy Quarles or Stephon Tuitt could be waiting in second round
Perhaps the most damning evidence that the Chicago Bears could spurn Aaron Donald though is what might await them in the second round of the draft. The 51st pick puts them within range of a number of high quality defensive tackles. One is Stephon Tuitt out of Notre Dame and the other is Kelcy Quarles of South Carolina. Tuitt played primarily at defensive end for the Irish but his 300-lbs frame and speed make him a tantalizing option as an interior pass rusher. His 7.5 sacks further that idea. Quarles meanwhile was a favorite interview target of the Bears during the pre-draft process. His 9.5 sacks as a defensive tackle at South Carolina, the same program that gave Chicago Alshon Jeffery, is hard to ignore. What makes them such easy consolation prizes is the fact that they meet the Emery criteria. Tuitt is 6’7″ and 322 lbs. Quarles is 6’4″ and 298 lbs. They have the pass rush ability and the physical parameters to get even better.
Donald cannot say the same.