Last Saturday night, the Jets selected West Georgia edge defender Dylan Donahue with the 181st pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The 25-year old Donahue is 6'3" and 248 pounds and racked up 25.5 sacks over the past two years at UWG after having been a junior college transfer from Palomar. In 2016, he was a Division II all-American and the Gulf South Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Donahue, whose father Mitch played in the NFL for four seasons, was a dominant high school player but was initially unable to attain the requisite grades to attend a major college. However, he eventually decided to enrol at Palomar College at the junior college level.
Not surprisingly, he put up good numbers at Palomar, registering 131 tackles, 24 sacks, 35.5 tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in 20 appearances over two years.
Donahue was then able to transfer to Division II West Georgia, where he continued to produce at a similar level. He recorded 120 tackles, 37.5 tackles for loss, 25.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Donahue was invited to the scouting combine and CBS Sports had him rated as a 6th-7th round pick prior to the draft.
Let's move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Donahue brings to the table, based on extensive research and film study.
Donahue was primarily a defensive end at UWG, although he has said he expected to convert to outside linebacker at the next level.
He played in both three and four-man fronts and rushed from both three and four-point stances. He also had plenty of reps standing up and even played defensive tackle in certain packages.
The main issue that might hold Donahue back is his lack of size and, specifically, length. Donahue has extremely short arms, which is going to be an issue whenever he engages with a blocker.
We'll be focusing on this issue quite heavily here because it's basically unprecedented for someone with arms so short to have any degree of success at the NFL level. This makes Donahue a surprising target for the Jets, considering the fact that above average length is a trait almost every draft pick under the current scouting department has shared.
Going back to 1999 and looking at combine data only, the only front seven players with shorter arms who had any success at all at the NFL level were Chris Borland and Colin McCarthy. Of course, both were off-ball linebackers, so wouldn't have been required to engage in the trenches very often. They're also both out of the league, albeit by choice in Borland's case.
Kwon Alexander is another off-ball linebacker with arms just a hair longer than Donahue's who remains in the league. Maybe such a position switch could be an option for Donahue to enable him to play in space where his lack of length is less of an issue.
In terms of linemen, the recent success of Markus Golden (12.5 sacks last year) does provide some hope that short-armed pass rushers can still be productive at the NFL level. Golden's arms are longer than Donahue's, albeit by less than an inch.
Another shorter-armed pass rusher who has had NFL success is Clay Matthews, although his arms are two inches longer than Donahue's. The main reason I mention Matthews is that the Packers would line him up at middle linebacker in pass rushing situations and get him to rush up the middle. Perhaps that's something Donahue could handle.
The Jets perhaps have faith in Donahue in spite of this lack of length because he's such a good athlete. As you can see, he has some good numbers for speed and strength here, but also an excellent number for the three cone drill, which experts feel is the most important number for edge rushing prospects.
This doesn't tell the whole story though, as he dramatically improved on his short shuttle (4.19 unofficial) and bench press (31 reps) at his pro day workout. Each of those numbers is in the 91st percentile for edge rushers.
On film, Donahue makes a lot of flashy plays, showing good speed in open field pursuit, explosiveness when closing to the ball and strength and power in the trenches. However, you'd expect him to stand out against such a low level of competition.
His highlight films are worth a watch, and the 2016 highlight reel shows growth and development from his 2015 highlights, but it's difficult to read too much into his pro potential from those. While we've also reviewed more in-depth game footage from his time at UWG, we're mostly going to pay specific attention to his appearance in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl all-star game as we review his on-field work.
Donahue was a three-down defender and put up productive tackling numbers each year at both Palomar and UWG. Deducting sacks from his tackle for loss total, we can see that he had 28.5 tackles for loss on running plays (or possibly in coverage) over four years, so he wasn't just making impact plays as a pass rusher.
A lot of these plays saw him shoot a gap and explode into the backfield to blow up a run at the source, but he was also able to penetrate into the backfield by driving his man back and chase down some ball carriers in pursuit.
All of the gifs in this article will be from the NFLPA game where was in on three tackles in 27 snaps. Look out for number 98, identifiable by his long hair and white helmet.
On this particular play, Donahue athletically avoids the block to fill the outside lane and prevent the runner from being able to cutback and run off-tackle:
On this play, he proves he can stand up his man at the point of attack - something he did consistently for most of the day - and then shed a block, although the linebacker shoots the gap and forces the runner to redirect anyway so it doesn't have a direct effect on the play:
He was working against Jets undrafted free agent signing Javarius Leamon on that play and he again initially stood him up here. However, Leamon got control of him and buried him to set up the run off the edge:
There was only one other play where he lost at the point of attack, again allowing a run off the edge here as he is driven to the inside:
Donahue has a lot of big hits on his highlight reel and an uncanny knack for making diving tackles at full stretch to bring a ball carrier down from behind.
Again, his lack of reach can be a problem here though, as he'll often be in position to make a play, but the ball carrier is able to elude his grasp at the last moment. It's going to be easier for quarterbacks to step up and elude him than it would be against a lengthier player.
He does seem to miss his fair share of tackles and had one in the NFLPA game, where he impressively beat his man into the backfield to potentially blow up the play for a loss, but then couldn't finish the play off:
He got in on the tackle here, holding up well at the point of attack and forcing the runner to bounce to the outside before getting off the block and getting in on the stop:
Donahue's effort levels are immediately apparent as he battles in the trenches, is relentless when rushing the passer and doesn't quit in pursuit.
He didn't play all the time at UWG, getting some rest on a series-by-series basis when the need arose.
Donahue's excellent numbers in college largely come from the fact that he was facing offensive tackles who were completely overmatched against him. Nevertheless, he was impressively dominant in terms of beating them with speed on the outside, driving them off their spot or getting off blocks with spin moves or hand-fighting techniques.
Scouting reports suggest Donahue doesn't have good speed-to-power abilities when rushing the passer, but there seems to be some projection involved in that because he was able to have impressive success with such moves against lower-level opposition.
When Donahue comes around the edge, he does so with good dip and lean, but occasionally isn't completely under control so any NFL quarterback with good awareness and pocket presence may be able to sense him and avoid the rush by stepping up.
He only saw seven pass rush attempts in the NFLPA game and was double teamed on about half of them, including a couple of times by fifth round pick Jermaine Eluemunor. This was as close as he got to recording a pressure, as he drove the left tackle off his spot and then was able to gain a leverage advantage to the inside, but the quarterback got rid of the ball quickly:
Donahue only dropped into coverage once in all the footage I watched, dropping back into the middle of the field on a fire-zone type look.
However, he does have a few impressive hustle plays on his highlight reel where he chased down a receiver after a short pass and got in on the tackle.
On one play last year, Donahue got into the quarterback's face and batted down his pass with two hands. At Palomar, he was credited with one pass break-up in two years and I assume that was something similar.
Scouting reports suggest that Donahue has good vision, but there were actually a lot of plays where he appeared to burst into the backfield and left a running lane open or misread the hand-off on a read option play.
Rather than being overpowered or beaten by an opponent with better technique, it seemed that most of his negative plays came down to a lack of awareness. For example, a blocker blindsiding him unexpectedly, getting caught up in traffic or some element of misdirection catching him out could all be things that led to a negative play.
On this play, for example, he tries an inside move, but the left guard (Browns UDFA Josh Boutte) comes across to help and wipes him out, although the play ends up in a sack anyway:
On this play, he reacted too late to a pitch and lost outside contain:
As previously noted, he struggled to get good grades while at high school and has been quoted as saying he had attention deficit disorder as a child. However, he seems to have overcome these issues to get through college, albeit as an older prospect.
Donahue is obviously a fiery character with a drive to succeed and a chip on his shoulder. His on-field relentlessness is sure to endear him to fans and coaches as long as he has some level of success. It's also important that his father comes from NFL stock.
Donahue seems to have won over new outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene in particular. Donahue believes Greene sees a lot of himself in Donahue and that he likely had a big influence on the fact the Jets selected him.
He doesn't seem to have an issue with penalties, although at times he'll get low and drive his man back in a fashion that can lead to an illegal-hands-to-the-face call. Here's an example:
Everyone has been raving about Donahue's special teams potential and it makes sense given his lack of length that the Jets would find a role for him that would enable him to play in space.
However, disappointingly, Donahue didn't really play special teams at UWG, although he recorded one blocked kick while a Palomar. Donahue told the media that he used to beg to be included on special teams units while at UWG because it's his favorite part of the game.
If you compare him to Julian Howsare, who did play special teams against lower level competition in college and was dominant in doing so, but then came into the NFL and didn't make much of an immediate impact, then you might feel less confident about Donahue's chances.
Howsare is an interesting comparison because he's a similar size and has basically the same 40 speed, although he lacks the explosiveness and strength numbers. An edge rusher in college, Howsare has converted to fullback since being with the Jets. Again, perhaps that's an option for Donahue if he can't succeed on the edge.
Donahue only played a couple of special teams snaps in the NFLPA game, although he got down there and almost made the tackle on this punt. The return man side-stepped him though:
I was all ready to write off his special teams potential as being something of a Hail Mary, but then I saw this tweet which comprises some spectacular special teams work from his high school days. So maybe that's something they can build on after all.
Getting back to Donahue's length or lack thereof, it's clear that he will have to master hand placement and hand fighting techniques to have any hope of succeeding in an edge rushing role.
However, we've suggested multiple other options throughout this article that they might also be compelled to experiment with.
I can't find any details of injuries suffered by Donahue while at college. He missed one game while at Palomar.
Donahue is such a fascinating pick because he bucks some recent tendencies. This suggests they were really high on certain aspects of his character and his development potential.
It's again worth reiterating that it's almost unprecedented in the recent era for a front seven player with that kind of lack of length to have NFL success, although there are a few outliers that suggest it's not completely impossible.
Donahue is convinced he'd have been a first or second round pick if he'd attended a more high profile program and, while that's perhaps unlikely given his physical limitations, he clearly believes he has a lot of talent and has convinced Jets coaches of that fact too.
In the all-star game from which all the gifs in this article were taken, Donahue wasn't dominant, but held up quite well and had a few moments where he showed flashes of ability to get the better of his man. It was good to see glimpses of that against slightly better competition.
Still, it's a big jump from Division II football to the NFL, but Donahue seems to have fared well at rookie camp this weekend and will be a fun player to root for if he continues to progress.