By: Steve Balestrieri
Patriots first round draft pick Dominique Easley. (USA TODAY Images)
One of the Patriots needs coming into the 2014 NFL Draft was depth along the defensive line at both tackle and end and with their first pick at #29 the team selected defensive tackle Dominque Easley from Florida.
With both starters Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly lost to season ending injuries, the Patriots needed an infusion of youth and have long coveted someone who can pressure the quarterback from the interior of the defensive line.
Easley is known as a disruptor and someone with an explosive first step. In terms of getting off the ball, Easley was considered by many second only to Jadeveon Clowney in that regard and has a non-stop motor.
But Easley’s stock was hurt by injuries; he blew out an ACL in 2011 and followed that with injuring his other ACL in September while in Florida. So now with health questions surrounding Wilfork and Kelly, the Patriots have rolled the dice somewhat by investing their first pick with a player albeit very talented with major injury concerns.
Easley stated earlier this week that his knee is about “80 percent” but that he’ll be ready to go once training camp starts in July. One person who isn’t worried is Pats coach Bill Belichick who stated, “We felt good about Dominique, and with other teams behind us, we just didn’t want to take a chance on it,” Belichick said. “I feel like he’ll be all right.”
Plenty of positives: Easley as stated earlier possesses an explosive first step among the best in the very tough SEC conference. He’s also versatile, while best suited to be a three-technique (aligned outside the guard’s shoulder), Easley can slide outside to a five-technique on running downs if need be.
The Patriots have selected the very talented but injury prone DT Dominique Easley with their first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
(USA TODAY Images)
With that very fast first step, he can fire past opposing blockers and disrupt plays in the backfield. Against Tennessee and Miami last season, he wreaked havoc in the backfield and drew numerous holding calls.
For someone as slightly undersized as he is (6’2, 288) he plays strong due to excellent core strength and he has very quick hands that he can use to slap away blockers. For a team like the Patriots who are looking for a three-technique penetrating defensive tackle, Easley has Top 10 talent.
Negatives: Health…plain and simple. Easley has suffered ACL injuries to both knees and his long term durability has to be brought into question here. After suffering a second ACL injury last season, it is fair to question whether a player such as Easley who is undersized and relies on his agility and burst at the line will suffer a loss of those after a second surgery.
Bottom Line: Easley is an immensely talented, versatile player who should… IF healthy jump right in and contribute to the Patriots defense, especially in their sub-package looks.
He possesses Top 10 talent and with a non-stop motor and the ability to penetrate and disrupt both the passing and running games, should be a very nice addition. Both San Francisco and Seattle were supposedly interested as well and ready to take him if the Patriots passed.
The Patriots needed an influx of youth in the defensive line both Kelly and Wilfork as well as newly signed defensive end Will Smith are on the wrong side of 30, and Easley will definitely help there.
But with Smith, Wilfork and Kelly all having question marks because of injury concerns, adding another potential injury concern in Easley is a decision that Belichick will be scrutinized for at least until Easley shows he’s ready to play.
With plenty of talent available at the #29 pick, this is a move that will bear watching closely because unlike SF and Seattle who have a bevy of talent and depth at the defensive line position, the Patriots do not and could ill afford to take a risk and lose a gamble on a talented but injury prone player.
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