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updated: 5/8/2014 12:34 PM

Will Bears grab Pitt's Donald in draft?

If Donald is available, Bears likely will pounce on difference-making DT

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  • In this photo taken on Sept. 28, 2013, Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald inspires the fans to make noise as he plays in an NCAA football game against Virginia in Pittsburgh. Donald, the most-decorated defensive player during the 2013 college football season with four major awards, could be the Panthers' highest draft pick since wideout Larry Fitzgerald was taken third overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 2004.

      In this photo taken on Sept. 28, 2013, Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald inspires the fans to make noise as he plays in an NCAA football game against Virginia in Pittsburgh. Donald, the most-decorated defensive player during the 2013 college football season with four major awards, could be the Panthers' highest draft pick since wideout Larry Fitzgerald was taken third overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 2004.
    Associated Press

  • Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald, left, could be the Panthers' highest draft pick since wideout Larry Fitzgerald was taken third overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 2004. He had an NCAA-best 28½ tackles for loss last season.

      Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald, left, could be the Panthers' highest draft pick since wideout Larry Fitzgerald was taken third overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 2004. He had an NCAA-best 28½ tackles for loss last season.
    Associated Press

  • In this Oct. 19, 2013, file photo, Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald (97) pressures Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke (14) during an NCAA football game in Pittsburgh. Donald, the most-decorated defensive player during the 2013 college football season with four major awards, could be the Panthers' highest draft pick since wideout Larry Fitzgerald was taken third overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 2004.

      In this Oct. 19, 2013, file photo, Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald (97) pressures Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke (14) during an NCAA football game in Pittsburgh. Donald, the most-decorated defensive player during the 2013 college football season with four major awards, could be the Panthers' highest draft pick since wideout Larry Fitzgerald was taken third overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 2004.
    Associated Press

 
 

A lot of draft prognosticators have assigned Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald to the Bears at the No. 14 spot, and with good reason.

The 6-foot-1, 285-pound Donald is the most obvious replacement for 2012 Pro Bowl 3-technique tackle Henry Melton, who left for the Dallas Cowboys in free agency after missing all but three games last season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

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The 3-technique may be the most critical position in the Bears' defense, and Melton, who converted from running back at Texas, was a great fit when he was healthy.

"When Henry was playing at a productive level, it was because of his athleticism," general manager Phil Emery said. "He had good instincts to the ball, he could run to the football, he could find his way through traffic very well and, because of his speed and explosion, he could close on a quarterback."

That sounds a lot like Donald, who had 11 sacks last season, when he became the first Panthers defender to be a unanimous all-American since Hugh Green in 1980.

"They both get after the passer," Emery said. "They both can get in the backfield."

It almost seems too perfect for Donald to fall into the laps of the Bears, who have upgraded the defensive end spots in the off-season but still have a need for a disruptive tackle who can create havoc in the backfield.

"It usually doesn't happen that way," Emery said. "I wouldn't count on that one. (But) he's a very good player."

Donald is a bit smaller than the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Melton, but he's smaller than most defensive tackles. He's also faster than all of them, having run a 4.68 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, the best time at the position.

Donald's game is based on speed and quickness, but he's strong enough to have repped 225 pounds 35 times on the bench press.

He gets asked frequently about his size, but he's comfortable in his frame.

"It is what it is," he said. "Thinking about it isn't going to get me taller. All I can (do) is go play the game of football the way I play it -- hard-nosed, out there trying to make plays."

He made plenty over the last two seasons, when he had 47 tackles for loss, including an NCAA-best 28 last season when he became one of the most decorated college players ever. Donald won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the best defensive player in college football, the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) and the Rotary Lombardi Award for best college football lineman or linebacker.

Now he's ready to earn some NFL honors.

"I feel like I can make an impact right away," Donald said. "I feel like I can come in and make plays right away."

It might seem too good to be true, but he could be making plays for the Bears in a few months.

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.

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