HomeSportsNFLPenn State Coach James Franklin: ‘Aaron Donald Has Hurt College Football’

Penn State Coach James Franklin: ‘Aaron Donald Has Hurt College Football’

by Suzanne Halliburton
aaron donald
Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This may sound weird. But Penn State coach James Franklin believes that Aaron Donald, the best defensive tackle in the NFL, is bad for college football.

Here’s his reason. Too many young players think they can be Donald, an undersized, but powerful force on the line of scrimmage. Few tackles can excel at his size, but they still try to drop weight.

“I’m a huge Aaron Donald fan,” James Franklin told reporters on opening day of Nittany Lions spring practice. “Aaron Donald has hurt college football and defensive tackles, in my opinion, because every single one of these kids think they’re Aaron Donald. ‘Well, I’m going to lose weight, and I’m going to be more athletic.’

“Well, there’s been one Aaron Donald in 50 years at his size to be as disruptive as he is and as strong and as quick and as explosive. The problem is, everyone thinks they’re the exception.”

James Franklin said that Aaron Donald, seen here playing in the Super Bowl, is bad for college football. Tackles want to drop weight to be more like the athletic Donald. But he’s a football unicorn. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Terrific defensive tackles are difficult to find. That’s why they’re a premium position in the NFL. College power leagues like the SEC and Big Ten sift through the high school ranks to find a bulky lineman who can play the run and rush the quarterback. The On3 Industry ranking listed Donald as a four star, although other recruiting services ranked him at a three for the recruiting class of 2010. He came in at No. 364 on the national blue chip list and only the 38th-best tackle prospect in the country.

Penn State didn’t offer the in-state kid from Pittsburgh. Standing 6-feet and weighing 260 pounds, he didn’t check off the premium measurables. But don’t blame James Franklin for an Aaron Donald swing and miss. After all, Franklin was an assistant coach at Maryland, a year away from taking the head coaching job at Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions signed seven of the top 10 prospects from Pennsylvania. Donald’s top scholarship offers were Pitt, Rutgers, Akron and Toledo.

However, by the time Donald left Pitt, he was a unanimous All-American and the most dominant defender in college football. The Rams drafted him with the 13th pick of the 2014 NFL draft. Donald has made the Pro Bowl every year since his selection.

But as James Franklin said, Aaron Donald basically is a unicorn among defensive tackles.

“And the reality is there’s been a lot more 300-pound defensive tackles that have had great NFL and college careers than there’s been the 275-, 285-pound D-tackles,” Franklin said. “Don’t get me wrong. If Aaron Donald wants to come to Penn State, we want him. But our guys need to understand that’s the exception, not the rule. And we gotta kind of find the happy medium between the two.”