In this week's run-up to the 2014 NFL Draft, we'll be publishing Trevor Sikkema's profiles of Florida's NFL aspirants. We begin today with DT Dominique Easley.
Dominique Easley is a New York kid, hailing from Staten Island, New York. If given the choice between watching football or watching cartoons, he said he would chose cartoons. The first time he saw a cow was on his recruiting visit to Florida. Every night before bed, he would watch losses from previous seasons, so as to never forget the pain losing brings.
His favorite post-game media session snack is animal crackers. Easley carried around a Chucky doll during his time at Florida (the Child's Play character also inspired the name of his Twitter account), and passed it down to Dante Fowler, Jr., following his injury.
Easley came to Florida under Urban Meyer's regime and was the No. 2 overall defensive tackle in the 2009 high school class. In his true freshman year he appeared in six games, mostly in blowout score situations.
His sophomore year, however, gave Florida fans something to marvel at, as he started all 12 regular season games at defensive tackle before tearing his ACL in the team's final regular season game against Florida State. Prior to his injury, he notched 37 total tackles with 7.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Hope was still high for Easley's future and so was his hunger to get back on the field.
In 2012, Easley started in 11 games for the Gators, but was still recovering from his ACL tear, and was limited at times during the year due to minor nagging injuries. He made the most out of time on the field, however, leading the team in sacks with four. In the team's Sugar Bowl defeat, Easley stood out, recording 3.5 tackles for loss and almost doubling his total on the season.
Entering his senior year, he was named to the preseason First Team All-SEC, and was on watch lists for the Lombardi, Bronko, Nagurski, Bednarik and Outland awards. Easley's final year at Florida was likely to be his most productive year yet.
And in September, it appeared that it would be: In his first two games against Toledo and Miami, Easley recorded back-to-back tackle for loss games for just the second time in his career. And he dominated against Tennessee, before tearing his opposite ACL in practice following that Week 3 win.
Easley ended his time at UF with much unfinished business, but sometimes that's the cruel nature of sports. The team award Easley ended up winning, the James W. Kynes Award for mental and physical toughness, may tell more of a tale about his character than his achievement awards would have ever told in terms of his stock as a draft prospect, had health been fully on his side.
RotoWorld's NFL Draft analyst Josh Norris seems to have coined the phrase "disruption is production." The thought behind that saying is this: Interior defensive lineman play a role each snap whether they make it to the quarterback or not. Stats are fun, but they rarely ever tell an entire tale.
If you look at Easley's stats during his time at UF, they're not that impressive; his sack and tackle numbers are primarily assists more than results of his own. However, what Easley produces is far better than numbers on a stat sheet: He churns out great game film. Even in the limited film scouts have of Easley in this his final year of college ball was impressive enough to argue for him as a first-round selection.
What Easley does better than anyone in this defensive class is get off the ball. His explosive quickness and great reaction speed means he often has his hands up to a lineman's chest before the lineman can even fully get out of his stance. He also wins with his hands, and the way he uses his hands to confuse and disengage blockers is a direct skill translatable to the NFL.
And his ability to split double teams is second to none in the 2014 class. During the Miami game, Easley was the top priority for the Hurricanes' protection plan, and it still didn't work. Easley's ability to get into the backfield and disrupt Stephen Morris's pocket drastically impacted how a ball was thrown or the play developed, even though a stat may have never shown it.
But despite that tape, Easley faces challenges, standing at a rather average-for-his-position 6'2" and 288 pounds, and with a lack of proven performance in the pre-draft process, thanks to the recovery time involved in coming back from a second ACL tear. Still, NFL teams have been showing a fair bit of interest in him: The Bears, Browns, Rams, and Patriots all invited Easley to private workouts, and the Cowboys and Ravens had Easley run special drills at his personal "pro day," held a month after Florida's to enable Easley to participate fully in a pro day setting.
Easley's a tough kid who has been through a lot, and he has shown he can not only come out from bad situations a better man, but a better player as well, even after major injury. For that, I would personally take a chance on him in the latter half of round one, but, realistically, I don't see that happening. If Tank Carradine didn't make it into last year's first round with one torn ACL, it's tough to think Easley can with two. The NFL is very hesitant with big men and knee injuries.
Early Day 2 is my projection for Easley, and a few teams that could use him would be the Bears, Cowboys, Vikings, Patriots and Seahawks. I think he gets snatched up by a team that trades up to get the pick used on him.