There are very few segments of society in which Aaron Donald would not be considered a large man. But among the freakishly oversized human beings of the NFL, 6'1, 285 pounds is "diminutive" enough to raise criticism from draft experts.
Not that the criticism has been enough to really hamper his draft stock. Though relatively small for a pro defensive tackle, the Pittsburgh star is projected as a sure-fire first-rounder after putting up monster numbers at the NFL Combine. Donald was the talk of Indianapolis. His physics-defying 4.68 40 was by far the fastest among defensive tackles (for comparison, that's the same time Johnny Manziel posted) and his cone drill was fourth among all defensive linemen. He showed strength to go along with that athleticism, pumping out 35 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, also tops among defensive tackles.
Despite all of that, there continues to be questions about his size and his ability hold up on the interior of NFL defensive lines. Donald, who talked with SB Nation, isn't concerned in the least.
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SBNation.com: You were all the talk of the combine after putting up monster numbers. What did you think of your performance?
AD: I felt like it was pretty good. I'd been working toward it for seven or eight weeks getting ready for it. I was glad to get there and open up some eyes, which is always good.
SBNation.com: Did you surprise yourself with how well you did?
AD: I kind of expected that. I went into the combine knowing what I was going to do. It was all about transferring what I'd done in practice and doing it in front of GMs and coaches.
SBNation.com: Was there anything you were disappointed in?
AD: I was happy with everything. Everything from the bench press to meeting with the coaches, I felt I did pretty good.
SBNation.com: People want to talk about the combine numbers, but going through those interviews is also a major part of the scouting process. Tell me about those.
AD: You go into a room with the GM of a team and the coaches -- head coaches, position coaches -- and they pretty much want to know your knowledge of the game. They want to know how you learn. They'll watch the film with you and ask you what you were thinking on certain plays.
SBNation.com: How extensively did they dig into your personal life?
AD: It's everything. They make sure they know about you before you join their team. It's a job interview. They want to know everything. They want to make sure they're getting a good player that can help the team not just on the field but off the field as well.
You have to watch out because being an athlete and playing at the college level with the opportunity to go the NFL, you're under the microscope and everybody's watching. There are people that look up to us. So you have to watch out for what you do and who you're around.
SBNation.com: The one criticism people have had about you is your size. What do you say to those that think you're too small to play defensive tackle in the NFL?
AD: I'm a football player, you know? My film talks for me. Everything that people are questioning, I've showed that on film. There's no point in getting upset about it, getting mad about it. All I can do is keep playing my game. But I feel like I'm a solid football player.
SBNation.com: Does that criticism motivate you?
AD: A lot of people have asked me that question. I don't really think about it, honestly. My main focus is playing football and giving it all I got. I'm trying to go out there and make plays and help my team win. So I don't think too much about it, I just play football and let my game speak for me.
SBNation.com: Are there any guys in the league right now that might have a similar build as you that you look to as inspiration?
AD: Geno Atkins. There were a lot of people going into the NFL that didn't want to take a chance on him. He's one of the best defensive tackle in the NFL right now. He's paving the way for guys like me. I started watching him a lot my junior year of college. I like the way he plays. Quick, fast strong, makes a ton of plays. He's a fun player to watch.
SBNation.com: What role and system do you see yourself fitting into at the next level?
AD: In college I had experience in two different systems. I played nose tackle, I played [three-technique] and I played on a three-man front outside so I have experience at every position on the defensive line. I feel like I'm an inside guy, I feel like I'm a three-tech or nose tackle. But I had to play defensive end my sophomore year so I feel like I'm an everything guy.
SBNation.com: Do you think that versatility helps your draft stock?
AD: A lot. Just showing coaches that I can play inside or bump out to the edge and pass rush. It always helps being able to do more than one thing. It's all about being versatile and being able to move around and help your team win.
SBNation.com: What do you think will be the biggest transition from college to pro?
AD: Speed. My first year playing in high school the game was faster. Then I moved to college, the game got faster. I know at the next level it's going to be even faster.
SBNation.com: One thing I hear a lot when I ask that question is having to pick up on the playbook. Is having to learn a pro system going to be a challenge?
AD: Yeah, you're going to have a big playbook to learn. But I'm prepared for it. I became a student of the game in college. I know how to break down film and learn the playbook. I should be able to do that pretty fast. I'm comfortable with that.
SBNation.com: Have you kept an eye on free agency? Are you keeping tabs on who may be looking for a defensive tackle in the draft?
AD: Not really. You never know what's going to happen in the draft. You might guess that this team needs this player or whatever, but at the end of the day you never know. You never know where you're going to go until your name gets called.
SBNation.com: You faced a lot of spread offenses in college. How will you handle seeing pro style week-in and week-out?
AD: I can't really say until I actually see it. I'm just getting myself ready now, getting my mind ready for it. We're going to see. Pitt was actually a pro style offense, so I practiced a lot against it.
SBNation.com: A lot has been made of locker room behavior in the wake of the Dolphins bullying scandal. What do you expect as a rookie?
AD: You have to respect the older guys. You can learn a lot from them, but you know, you'll be coming in as a young guy. You have to start at square one and earn earn your respect. You have to earn the trust of your coaches.
SBNation.com: Have you talked to anybody in the league now about their rookie experiences?
AD: A couple guys. A couple of guys that had to get some bad haircuts.
SBNation.com: That sounds like it has a lot of embarrassment potential.
AD: As long as it grows back I'll be alright.