The New England Patriots have added to their carousel of defensive linemen with former Florida standout Dominique Easley. Below is our scouting report on Easley after a closer examination this morning.
Alignment: A movable chess piece on the defensive line, Easley had many homes along the defensive front. He played what is known as a "5 technique" (over the outside eye of the opposing offensive tackle) at-times, other times as a titled nose tackle and in the interior of the line. He also played on the edge to the tight end side of formations, more like a conventional defensive end. Florida was innovative and smart in its usage of Easley.
Athleticism: Easley has an explosive first step and creates substantial force through his hips and core at the initial point of attack. He has enough length (nearly 33-inch arms) and is loose-hipped and flexible. He shows very good closing acceleration as a backside defender and pass-rusher. He's more explosive than Chandler Jones, but does not have Jones' overall length.
Strengths: Explosive. He fires out of the gate at the snap. Easley shows exceptional instincts to time the snap and a ferocious, balanced first step. He plays with wildly active hands, using them to fight and club in pass rush. He has powerful punches when anchoring against an offensive lineman in defending the run. Easley has a diverse pass-rush arsenal that involves his ability to beat you with quickness, speed, the ability to slither and find space, work you with his hands and in pursuit.
Limitations: The injury is a legitimate concern. He has two torn ACL's in his past that bear monitoring. Easley is slight for an every-down defensive tackle at just 288 pounds. He gets his shoulders turned at times when taking on double teams. Durability is the issue of primary focus.
Pro comparison: Typically, we find pro comparisons to be a stretch, as it is rare for two players to have identical skill sets. But if we had to choose a comparable player, I see some Lamarr Houston in Easley. Houston, now a Chicago Bear, has been a standout for the Raiders with the ability to win on the edge as an end and along the interior. Houston is just a shade under 300 pounds, but has very good explosion.
Projecting Patriots fit: The first question is at what point will Easley be all-systems-go following his knee injury? He expressed confidence about his progress Thursday night. Assuming he's healthy by the start of training camp, he has a chance to be a top-six defensive lineman for the Patriots (with Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Tommy Kelly and Will Smith). The Patriots can utilize Easley in similar ways to Florida -- all over the line. With his ability to play on the edge and on the inside, he is a player whose role could be heavily involved in games that they face strong passing attacks. The bottom line on Easley is when evaluating him before his most recent injury, impressive traits pop. He has uncommon explosiveness and versatility for a defensive lineman. He might well have been drafted closer to pick 10 or 12 if he had not been injured. That is not to say he is a sure-fire future Pro Bowler, but the Patriots had the luxury of taking a player that they can be patient with, while also adding depth to a major area of need. If he can stay healthy -- a big if -- the Patriots added a potential stud.