Patriots stay put, take undersized, injured Florida DT Dominique Easley
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Despite many presumptions that the New England Patriots might look to trade down and out of the first round to take advantage of the perceived depth in the 2014 NFL Draft class, coach Bill Belichick stayed put and made a pick for the first time in two years.
Continuing an offseason spent addressing the defense, New England picked Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley with the 29th overall selection.
"The way the board ended up, we felt real good about Dominique being available at 29," Belichick said to open his press conference at the conclusion of the first round.
Easley is an undersized defensive tackle (6-foot-2, 288 pounds) with athletic ability to penetrate in both run and pass defense.
He also tore the anterior cruciate ligament in both knees over the course of the past three years. Easley played in just three games last fall for the Gators due to the second ACL tear, one that kept him from working out this spring when the Patriots held a workout with various Florida players.
Still, Belichick was clearly impressed with the performances that Easley turned in when healthy in Gainesville.
"He's a very disruptive player," Belichick said. "Very explosive. He's smart, instinctive and has a great motor. There's not much to not like about him."
Belichick also downplayed any concerns he might have about Easley's current and past ACL issues.
"When he gets up here, we'll work with him and see where he's at," Belichick added. "We feel like he'll be all right."
Easley downplayed his latest injury to some degree, though he wouldn't specifically say how close he felt to being 100 percent.
"I'm healthy," Easley said. "I'm just ready to get up there and do whatever Coach Belichick needs me to do."
Easley joins a Patriots defensive tackle depth chart that includes Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork and veteran Tommy Kelly as well as Armond Armstead, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. Wilfork (Achilles) and Kelly (ACL) are both returning from major injuries that forced the group of younger players to step up last year in the veterans' absence.
When he is healthy, Easley certainly will be expected to compete for playing time with the veterans, and he is looking forward to working with Wilfork as a mentor.
"It's going to be a great experience, to get to learn from an old guy, a veteran that's real good," Easley said of New England's defensive co-captain. "He'll teach me some stuff. It's going to be real exciting to learn from him."
Taking an optimistic look at New England's top pick, some believe Easley would have been a top-10 prospect were it not for his ACL issues. Of course, the pessimistic view is that he is a guy with a history of multiple major knee injuries who is going to be expected to serve as depth at a position in New England that is already littered with damaged defensive tackles.
Belichick took a chance on a player he felt was simply too good to pass up.
Easley expects to prove his new coach right.
"I was real excited when I saw the Massachusetts number come up on my phone," Easley said. "I've been watching the Patriots for a long time. It's a winning team, so I'm real excited."