Easley is a disruptive force when healthy. AP Photo
Now that we've all had a night to digest the Patriots surprising pick of Dominique Easley with the 29th pick, here are some of my reactions to the selection.

Bad value? Not so fast

Quite a few fans and analysts thought the selection of Easley was a bit of a reach, as most projections had him lasting well into the second round. However, it turns out the Patriots were in danger of missing out on Easley if they traded out of the first round, as the Seattle Seahawks were reportedly prepared to take him at 32. In fact, the Patriots selection of Easley at 32 likely fueled the Seahawks decision to trade out of their pick, allowing Minnesota to land Teddy Bridgewater.

As per usual, Bill Belichick didn't reveal much at his press conference following the first round, but his comments do seem to legitimize that theory..

Easley's was early for the projections, but not for his talent level. In fact, Easley was regarded as a potential top 10 pick up until his most recent injury, with some even thinking at this time last year that team's would be wrestling over the decision between Easley and Jadeveon Clowney. That's how good this guy was at Florida. It's not outlandish to argue that Easley was the most talented player available.

From that line of thinking, Easley doesn't look like much of a reach anymore. In fact, acquiring a player as talented and disruptive as Easley at 29 has the potential to become a huge steal. The Patriots are willing to take on whatever risks are attached to find out.

High risk, high reward

I highlighted Easley as a "high risk, high reward" option at defensive tackle in our Patriots Draft Needs series, and Easley is arguably one of the biggest "high risk, high reward" players of the entire 2014 draft.

The risk is obvious, just read his medical history. Freshman year, limited all season by an ankle injury. Sophomore year, tears his left ACL in the regular season finale. Junior year, impressively returns from the ACL tear, but does miss two games with a sprained meniscus. Senior year, tears his right ACL in September, is expected to be cleared to play in time for the season.

Yes, you read that right. He's torn the ACL in both of his knees. It's very risky.

However, Easley's talent is high enough to be comparable to the Patriots 2010 selection of Rob Gronkowski. Like Gronk, Easley was available well beyond where he should have been talent-wise; while Gronk slid into the second round, Easley might have fallen out of the top 5 due to his injury history. In both cases, the Patriots considered the opportunity to add an elite talent to be worth the risks associated with it.

Make no mistake, the Patriots have just added an explosive playmaker. Don't be fooled by Easley's good-but-not-great collegiate statistics, the tape tells a different story. Easley's explosive quickness pops off the screen, and he is constantly defeating blockers and tearing into the backfield. At Florida, he made just as many plays for his teammates as he did for himself. He was an elite player worthy of the hype he was receiving as a potential top 10 pick.

Will Easley be able to stay on the field enough for the pick to be a good investment? It's a gamble, but one the Pats were willing to make for the potential reward. For what it's worth, Vince Wilfork is happy.

Great football character/ versatility

One of the things that attracted the Patriots to Easley (beyond just his pure talent) was his "football character". It's no secret that the Patriots value guys that are hard-working and passionate about football, something which stands out about Easley. His comment at the combine that he "doesn't watch football" was predictably blown up into a silly controversy, but the passion and energy Easley brings on and off the field is palpable. Bill Belichick certainly seemed to notice.

"Saw a guy that likes football, smart. He's definitely into football"
"He does a lot of things well. He's a smart guy, very instinctive. He's got a great motor, works hard. Football is very important to him. He's an all-in guy. There's not much to not like about him."

That character showed in his status as a team captain at Florida. It also showed in the maniacal energy he brought both on and off the field. Look at some of this stuff.

While Easley was a personality the Patriots clearly felt comfortable with, his versatility was undoubtedly a major plus in there eyes. Again, take it from Belichick himself.

"He's played everywhere along the defensive line. You don't see a lot of guys who do that -- he lines up on the nose, he lines up on the guard, he lines up on the tackle, he lines up out wide at times. You can see him playing all those spots."

He’s an explosive player, very explosive. A very disruptive player. In college, I would say his stats might have been a little bit deceiving because a lot of times he was the disruptive person on the play, but he wasn't the guy who ended up making the tackle, or it wouldn't be on the stat sheet. But the reason the play wasn't successful was his penetration and ability to be disruptive. I think he has a good knack for that."

As for Easley's stats being disruptive, this play serves as a good example. Easley didn't record a statistic on the play, but his ability to beat his blocker and generate pressure forces the quarterback into a rushed throw that his teammate intercepts.

As I wrote last month, Easley's unique versatility could make him an ultimate chess piece for Belichick on defense; an explosive player who can be moved all over the defensive front to exploit mismatches and create disruption.  Easley also gives the Patriots a third defensive lineman who warrants extra attention from blocking schemes, joining Chandler Jones and Vince Wilfork. With Wilfork presumably still commanding double teams and Jones always dangerous, Easley could have the chance to feast on one-on-one matchups.

Furthermore, his versatility helps the team kill two birds with one stone. In addition to bolstering the defensive tackle rotation, his ability to play on the edge as a defensive end adds a measure of depth at that position as well. He'll likely spend most of his time at defensive tackle, but he can also help recent veteran free agent signing Will Smith and second year man Michael Buchanan in giving starters Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones the occasional breather if needed.

What about trading back?

It was pretty surprising to see the Patriots hold on to their pick in that spot. Much of the pre-draft speculation, including my own, was focused on how a quarterback or two sliding down the board would give them tremendous trading leverage to move back and get more picks. With Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr were still on the board, it was surprising that wasn't the option.

While Belichick hinted at Seattle being the reason the Pats didn't trade out of the round, I suspect the way the trade market played out played a factor as well. While some Pats fans had visions of last year's trade with the Vikings (second, third, fourth and seventh round picks for the same 29th pick), an offer like that simply wasn't going to materialize based on how the draft played out.

Take a look at how the teams that did trade back fared. Arizona moved back from 20 to 27 and only added an extra third rounder for their troubles. An extra third rounder was also all it took for Cleveland to move up four spots from 26 to 22, a move that landed them Jon Gruden's wet dream Johnny Manziel. Finally, the deal Seattle got from Minnesota is likely the best comparison to what the Patriots turned down: a second (40) and a fourth rounder for the 32nd pick and the chance to land Teddy Bridgewater.

With the Patriots seemingly fixated on Easley, would picking up an extra third or fourth rounder really be worth losing their shot at their guy? Not likely.

As to why the trade market didn't blossom how some hoped, my gut feeling is that there were multiple factors contributing to that. One was the sheer amount of quarterbacks available. Even with Bridgewater off the board, QB needy teams still will have their choice of Derek Carr, Jimmy Garrapolo, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray, Tom Savage and AJ McCarron. Under those circumstances, no one was going to throw caution to the wind and trade half their draft, as the Vikings did last year.

Furthermore, I suspect the depth in this year's draft led to team's valuing those Day 2 picks far more than most years. The second round will see plenty of first round talent taken (Kony Ealy, DeMarcus Lawrence, Marquise Lee, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Carlos Hyde, Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Ra'shede Hageman and Timmy Jernigan are a few of the big names still on the board), and that will probably push some second round caliber talent into the third round. Giving up picks in the second and third rounds this year means giving up a real shot at landing a good player. It's a risk that most teams simply weren't willing to make.

Patriots continue trends: Florida players/Injury risks

The Easley pick was a continuation of two clear trends in the Patriots draft history under Belichick. One was an affinity for Florida Gators. The Patriots have probably drafted fewer Gators under Belichick than you'd think ("only" seven counting Easley), but they've been some high profile picks, with some mixed results.

This was the first time Belichick has gone back to the Florida well since 2010, when he took three Gators. While the first of those three was a bust (Jermaine Cunningham), the other two wound up being productive players, but clashes with coaches (Brandon Spikes) and alleged murder (Aaron Hernandez) has led to both players no longer being with the team.

Those were still better picks than the double dip of Chad Jackson and Jeremy Mincey the Patriots took in 2006. Mincey at least went on to establish himself in Jacksonville, but he did next to nothing with the Patriots. Jackson caught 5 balls for 83 yards...in his career. The other Gator selected by Belichick, safety Guss Scott (2004) never stayed healthy long enough to make any impression.

Not the best track record of success, but there's no tangible correlation between the failings of past players to current ones. There's no reason to pass on a player you otherwise love because Jermaine Cunningham didn't work out four years ago, or that Chad Jackson was a bad football player who had coasted on natural talent.

Another trend that continued with the Easley pick was the Patriots adding another talented player despite known injury risks. The Pats never-ending quest for value leads them to look for players who are too talented to still be on the board, figuring the high-end talent is worth the associated risks. The Patriots have had some success with it; it's hard to argue with the picks of Rob Gronkowski or Sebastian Vollmer. However, they've also had this approach occasionally blow up in their face, with Ras-I Dowling standing as the poster child for when taking injury risks goes wrong.

This is an all-in move

It's appropriate that Belichick praised Easley as an "all-in" guy, because this is an all-in move for his football team. There's no way around it; you don't draft a player who's already torn the ACL in both of his knees and expect him to have a lengthy career. However, even if Easley only is able to play at a top level for a few years, those years will still correlate with the remainder of Tom Brady's "window" to win another championship.

I spent much of last night's live draft stumping for Missouri DE Kony Ealy, a player who remains on the board after 32 picks. My argument for Ealy centered on the idea that adding one more playmaker to your pass rush could be the spark needed to transform from a good defense to a great one. While I would have felt a little safer with Ealy, Easley has the potential to have that same kind of impact, only with the versatility to move all over the defensive front. The upside is tremendous, and Easley could be the kind of addition to pull the Patriots even with Denver in their "arms race" if he plays up to potential. That's how good this guy can be.

Ned Brady 5/09/2014 12:51:00 PM Edit

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