Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Former Lions defensive line coach claims he pushed to draft Aaron Donald

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 11: Running back C.J. Prosise #22 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts as he’s brought down by defensive end Aaron Donald #99 of the Los Angeles Rams in the second quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 11, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Getty Images

The Lions will meet the Rams on Sunday, which means it’s time to revisit every Lions fan’s favorite topic: The fact that the Lions passed on superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the 2014 NFL draft and chose tight end Eric Ebron instead.

Donald has become the best defensive player in the NFL with the Rams, who chose him with the 13th overall pick. And that sticks in the craw of Jim Washburn, who was the Lions’ defensive line coach at the time. Washburn told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that during the Lions’ draft preparations he told everyone up to and including owner Martha Ford that Donald was going to be the league’s next great defensive player.

“I said this guy is a Jedi,” Washburn says today. “Everybody looked puzzled and Mrs. Ford was sitting there and she couldn’t figure out what the heck a Jedi was. And I said a Jedi, he’s like Yoda. It’s like a Jedi, they see things before they happen, and I said Aaron Donald sees things before they happen. And he’s John Randle. Maybe when it’s all said and done, he’s better than John Randle.”

Washburn said a person he did not want to identify within the Lions’ personnel department was adamant that Donald was too small, and ultimately Washburn got overruled.

“He’s the premier player in football in my opinion,” Washburn said. “You make the exception for the exception and the guy . . . shot him down.”

In Washburn’s opinion, the Lions would have made it at least to the NFC Championship Game in 2014, Donald’s rookie year, if they’d had Donald on the line next to Ndamukong Suh. (The Lions went 11-5 and lost in the wild card round that season.) Washburn still views Donald as the one who got away.

It’s worth noting that coaches have been known to exaggerate, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, how sure they really were about a player before the draft. But in this case, it’s not hard to believe that Washburn badly wanted Donald, who was widely considered the best defensive player in college football in 2013, then was the best player on the field at the Senior Bowl, then blew up the Scouting Combine. What defensive line coach wouldn’t want a guy like that?

Unfortunately for Washburn, and the Lions, the team went for Ebron.