As part of our 2012 season review, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC this season, from no. 25 to no. 1. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof, obviously — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.
Donald thrived during his junior season in Pitt’s new base 4-3 defense, terrorizing offensive lines in the undersized Big East. While his sack numbers went down compared to last year (from 11 to 5.5), his tackles-for-loss jumped up in one less game this year from 16 to 18.5; and that’s still with lines prepared to double-team him. The advantage Donald gets from switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3 was a key for his role in preventing the run (as evidenced by the increase in TFLs with a decrease in sacks), but the team actually played slightly worse against the run than they had the year before (21st in yards per game allowed in 2011, versus 35th in 2012). Donald obviously can’t account for his teammates, but between his TFLs and QB hurries (11), it’s apparent he’s done his part to make an impact defending both the run and pass. While he’s submitted paperwork to investigate his NFL Draft status, it’s no guarantee that he stays with Pitt or heads to the pros next year.