INDIANAPOLIS — Private meetings are a big part of the draft process, because they shed light on which players a team wants to get to know more about, for one reason or another. Those meetings have already begun for the New England Patriots.
According to WEEI's Christopher Price, the Patriots have had an "informal meeting" with Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald in Indianapolis.
The Patriots are always fond of versatile players, regardless of their position, and Donald has played all over the line in his collegiate career.
"In college, I played different positions. I played nose tackle, I played in a three-man front as a 5-tech, I played 3-tech, so I moved around in college a lot. So being versatile the way I am, I feel like that's a plus for me."
He was constantly moved around, which has led to some people wondering where he would fit best. Despite that versatility, he feels he has a strong suit.
"Defensive line is defensive line, to me," he said, "but I feel like I'm a 3-tech, I feel like I'm an inside guy."
At 6-foot-1 and 288 pounds, there have been a lot of questions about Donald's size, and whether he can continue to be as productive while going against much bigger interior linemen in the NFL. Those talks have not been a problem for Donald.
"It never got to me," he said. "It is what it is. Thinking about it or letting it get me mad ain't gonna make me no taller, so I like to go out there and play the game of football the way I play it — hard-nosed and [going] out there trying to make plays."
Because of his combination of small size and big production (11 sacks, led the nation with 28.5 tackles for loss), he has drawn some comparisons to Bengals' All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins (6-foot-1, 303 pounds).
It certainly doesn't seem like Donald minds the comparisons.
"I love the way he plays," Donald said. "I watched him a lot my junior year in college, so I know how he is: explosive, fun to watch and making a ton of plays. Being considered an undersized defensive tackle and doing what he did in the NFL is amazing, and it's an honor just for people to even try to compare me with a guy like that. He's a great football player."
The Patriots figure to be in the market for a defensive tackle this offseason, with several questions at both the top and bottom of the depth chart — Vince Wilfork is coming off a torn Achilles' tendon and is set to count for $11.6 million against the cap, and could have his contract restructured as a result; Isaac Sopoaga and Tommy Kelly are both candidates to either restructure their deal or be cut outright to save money on the cap.
The Patriots have lacked a standout gap-penetrating defensive tackle that can be the yin to Wilfork's yang, and that is exactly the style of play Donald brings to the table.
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