Every year in the draft teams are forced to make bold decisions. In this years draft, several general managers will be forced to make a decision, is Dominique Easley worth the risk? If this were based solely on talent, we'd likely be discussing if Easley is the best defensive player after Clowney. So many more decisions go into just "on field talent" in the draft, and because of this, it's a crapshoot on where Easley will get drafted. My personal opinion? It's a bigger risk to pass on him in the 1st round.
Florida played Toledo to start the season, and the below GIFs were 3 of the first 4 plays of the game from Easley.
The above GIF, Easley beats the guard almost simultaneously with the snap, and is able to make the tackle for a gain of a half of yard.
On the 2nd play, Easley flashes in front of the quarterback, and does just enough to move him off of his spot, and forces a sack for his teammates.
On the 4th play of the game, lined up as the "0 technique", Easley gets up under the pads of the center, and drives him back, which lead to his teammates cleaning up the play.
Disruption is Key
If you look at Easley's box score, you see average production for a guy that is so talented. Easley lived in opponents backfields in the 3 games he played in 2013. He didn't always get credit for a tackle for loss, but he was certainly the main culprit as to why Florida was so successful at getting stops at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Instead of me GIF'ing the whole Miami game, you can watch the 10 minute cut up on Draft Breakdown. It got to a point where it was surprising if Easley wasn't in the backfield. Easley forced 3 holding calls that game, and it could have been much more.
Easley is listed at 6'2, 288 pounds, which seems small for a defensive lineman who flourished as much as Easley when lined up head up on the center, or in either A-gap. Easley consistently fires off the ball low, and wins with leverage. That is just as, if not more important than any "size" factor. Give me a 288 pounder who plays low, compared to a 330 pounder who plays high.
Easley is a superior 1-gap, aggressive type player, but I think he can hold up in a 2-gap system because of his ability to play low. Also, unlike Louis Nix III, Easley stays on his feet.
Of the defensive lineman I've been writing about, Easley might be the most versatile. They're all able to win from different spots, but Easley has been able to dominate from different spots. In 2012, Florida was more of a 4-3 based team, and Easley played defensive end. In 2013, they switched to more of a 3-4 alignment, and Easley played all up and down the line, and routinely overwhelmed lineman wherever he was.
Tom Telesco made it clear last year that he wanted high energy players, and Easley is the definition of this. He did a good job of chasing down plays in pursuit, and doesn't give up on plays.
Where He Must Improve
There are 2 areas that I saw with Easley that he has to get better at. I would categorize the first issue as "becoming a more polished pass rusher. This is an issue with most collegiate defensive lineman, they win with athleticism, as opposed to technique(save Dee Ford.) For as well as Easley shoots gaps, and beats offensive lineman with quickness, he could stand to get better at using his hands, as well as disengaging. I would notice that once he's into the offensive lineman, he almost seemed like he didn't know what to do next if Easley didn't win initially.
You could see the potential, it's there. Easley extends his arms nicely, he just needs to develop the next step, and add moves to his repertoire.
The last issue is Easley's awareness. Easley would be in the opponents backfield, and just wouldn't locate the ball carrier. His production did suffer because of this. Backfield vision is important because you can't always count on the players behind you to finish the play. Easley looked lost at times, and would just fire off the ball and have no clue where the play would be once he got his head up.
The Elephant In the Room
I will never pretend to be a doctor, or act like I know anything about a players medical field. The durability issues just can't be ignored. This is from ESPN.
Suffered torn ACL in each knee during career at Florida. In 2013, tore right ACL and medial meniscus during practice (prior to Game 4). In 2012, suffered injury late in Tennessee game and did not return. Also missed following week against Kentucky. Re-injured versus LSU, which led to him missing the following game vs. Vandy. In 2011, suffered torn left ACL versus FSU and did not play in bowl game.
The fact that he's torn both ACL's, and been dinged up several times throughout his career is too hard to just turn a blind eye to. This is why Easley can go anywhere from a late 1st rounder, to a late 3rd rounder. Some general managers will feel like they can't waste a pick on a player with this injury history, no matter the talent.
|Multiple Pro Bowl Player, Top 10||8.5 – 9.0|
|Highly Productive Starter, 1st Round||8.0 – 8.4|
|Very Good Starter, Early 2nd Round||7.8 – 7.9|
|Reliable Starter, 2nd Round||7.5 – 7.7|
|Potential Starter in Year 2, 3rd Round||7.0 – 7.4|
|Backup/Spot Starter, 4th Round||6.5 – 6.9|
|Productive Backup, 5th Round||6.0 – 6.4|
|Very Good Backup/STs, 6th Round||5.5 – 5.9|
|Quality Backup/Good STs, 7th Round||5.0 – 5.4|
|Backup/STs/Project Player, 7th Round||4.5 – 4.9|
|Priority Free Agent w/ Limitations||4.0 – 4.4|
|Read & React||2||1|
Easley grades out to a 7.89, or an early 2nd round talent. He's my 32nd highest graded player, but has the ceiling unlike few in the draft. Easley is an incredibly disruptive player, that if he develops any sort of hand usage or disengaging skills, we could be looking at one of the best interior defensive lineman in 5 years.
How He Fits as a Charger
I know the 1st thought is "no way, I'm not having a sub 290 pound nose tackle." I think Easley lined up in the A-gap is his best position, where he can win with leverage and quickness, and just disrupt the play from the jump. Easley can also instantly upgrade the pass rush, which wasn't very good on the interior in 2013.
Because of the injuries, I would be surprised if he went in the 1st round. Charger fans should know that at any point, a football player can get injured on any snap. The draft is a crapshoot anyway on whether a player will pan out that Easley is just too good a talent to pass up. Easley isn't a guy that needs a specific scheme to excel, and those are the players that every football team needs. If the Chargers are looking to acquire the best talent in the draft, Easley should be on their board, and very high on that board.