FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots have added one of the fiercest interior pass rushers in the draft.
They landed Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley Thursday night with the 29th overall selection, taking advantage of a fall that was spurred by knee issues. Yet, when healthy, Easley had proven to be one of the most disruptive presences on the line in college football.
“He’s a very disruptive player,” Pats coach Bill Belichick said. “In college, his stats might have been a little bit deceiving because a lot of times he was the disruptive person on the play but wasn’t the guy who ended up making the tackle. It wouldn’t be on the stat sheet, but the reason the play wasn’t successful was because of his penetration and ability to be disruptive. I think he has a good knack for that. He’s an explosive player.”
The 6-foot-2, 288-pounder had 5.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss during his career with the Gators, but he also tore both of his ACLs. Easley injured the left knee in 2011 and the right knee during a September 2013 practice, but he is close to returning to the field.
“I’m healthy,” Easley said. “I’m just ready to get up there and do whatever coach Belichick needs me to do.”
Easley also surprisingly said during the combine he doesn’t watch football, which raised some concerns over his love for the game. That, combined with the injury, made his draft stock a huge wild card, as he was viewed as anywhere between a late-first-rounder to a third-rounder.
“I wasn’t paying attention,” Easley said of his draft stock. “I was just waiting for my dream to come true.”
However, Belichick routinely says it’s vital to coach players who believe football is one of the most important things in their lives. Considering Belichick is comfortable with Easley’s determination to excel, that storyline can be settled.
Belichick was among the Pats brass who met with Easley during a private workout with a handful of Florida draft prospects, and the coach was clearly impressed with the results.
“Football is important to him,” Belichick said. “There’s not much to not like about him.”
Belichick insinuated there were trade discussions when the Patriots were on the clock but had Easley as their top-rated player on the board at that point. And if they traded down, however far it might have been, Belichick wasn’t comfortable with the gamble of losing Easley to another team.
The Pats addressed an immediate need with Easley, as Vince Wilfork (torn Achilles) and Tommy Kelly (knee) are returning from major surgeries, which hurt the production in the middle of the line in their absences.
Easley instantly upgrades the rotational depth, and his ability to cut through blockers with a quick first step should help the Patriots create more pressure without blitzing. That’s instrumental to the success of both Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.
“You always look for people who can hit the quarterback, no question,” Belichick said. “It’s a premium.”
All health being equal, Wilfork and Kelly will be slated to start and Easley would be first off the bench, though Easley might be able to overtake Kelly. Armond Armstead, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and Joe Vellano will also compete for playing time, as well as a spot on the 53-man roster.
The Patriots took Easley over highly regarded defensive tackles Louis Nix (Notre Dame), Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame), Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota) and Timmy Jernigan (Florida State). Easley was the second defensive tackle off the board, 16 picks after the Rams selected Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald.
If it weren’t for the knee injuries, Easley might have been a top-15 pick. In February, Easley’s agent, Tom Santanello, told the Herald the knee was a non-issue after a recent follow-up with Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery. Santanello added Easley was ahead of his rehab schedule and already began running.
As a result, Belichick is eager to get Easley on the field.
“He’s an explosive player,” Belichick said. “Very explosive.”