A. With Aaron Donald's performance at the combine, could you see him as an OLB in a 34?
B. Could you see the Steelers drafting him?
C. Where would they play him if they did?
D. Do you think he would last until their pick in round 2?
Let's deal with these one at a time...
A. Donald seems athletic enough where I think he could learn to play most positions at a pretty good level. This isn't college, though. Technique is critical, and I'm assuming he hasn't played defense standing up much, if ever, in his career. Starting him over from that basic of a level is a big risk, especially when he's showed he can be a disruptive interior lineman.
At the same time, I am a big believer in the versatility of a defensive front seven. Teams with the depth and skill among their linemen or linebackers can experiment with multiple fronts and create headaches for offensive coordinators in terms of preparation. Now Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer did a great job of this when he was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator. Vic Fangio, the defensive coordinator of the 49ers has employed similar schemes in terms of multiple alignments and has had a great deal of success.
one thing those teams have had in common is at least one dominating defensive player who can play outside or inside. Bengals DT Geno Atkins can rush off the edge or work as a 3-technique tackle. San Francisco's Justin Smith was an All Pro player at both end and tackle.
San Francisco is more of the pure 3-4 team the Steelers are, and while their big pass rusher is Aldon Smith, a player who'd struggle to be any more physically different than Donald, the key is he's able to move all over the formation and create chaos.
That leads me into the second question...
B.The Steelers wouldn't draft him. He's too physically gifted to last into the "project" territory (draft blue chip guys in the first, which could help you bolster your roster to take on projects in the second round), and getting him bulked up enough to play the 5-technique or even the 0-technique would waste his extraordinary physical gifts. I'd think Chicago and Dallas will enjoy getting the opportunity to draft him at 14 or 16. He fits as a 3-technique tackle in a 4-3 defense naturally.
C. But...since we're talking hypotheticals here...Let's embrace it. ASSUMING the Steelers had the opportunity to take him in the second round (a grand and false assumption, but they wouldn't take him in the first round), It would be enjoyable to see what Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau could concoct. I'm sure he could find ways to get him on the field, probably in a pass-rushing capacity. You'd have to worry about him in coverage, which would tip his hand a bit (i.e. he's only going to rush the passer, a one-trick mammoth, so to speak).
Even in this grand hypothetical, he'd really be a subpackage player, but if you're a fan of watching athletic defensive front seven players (like me), it'd be fun to watch.
Hypothetical over...no, I don't think he will. Considering the success Seattle has had over the last three seasons by utilizing specialty defensive linemen (some against the run, some against the pass), tackles like him are going to be in high-demand. An outstanding Combine as well as a great Senior Bowl performance likely boosted Donald into the top 15. Chicago and Dallas have to be taking note.