The University of Florida's Dominique Easley is the best player you haven't heard about.
In September, Easley was one of the most dominant defensive players in all of college football. He was so dominant that ESPN's draft guru Todd McShay (Subscription required) had him ranked as the ninth best player on his big board.
McShay commented on Easley's stellar start to the season: "Based only on what I've seen of his play this season, I think he may have been the most dominant defensive player in the country so far."
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller was also a fan of Easley's success early in the season. Miller stated in his pro player comparison video above that Easley was his top rated defensive tackle prospect before he tore his ACL.
However, on September 24th, Easley tore his ACL in his right knee during a non-contact drill, which ended his season. This coupled with the fact that he had already torn his left ACL in 2011 has caused his draft stock to fall dramatically. Miller has Easley ranked as the 66th best prospect, which makes him a fringe second- or third-round draft pick.
Dominique Easley has just passed Aaron Donald as my highest graded interior lineman based on tape only at this point. .— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) March 24, 2014
Based on his film, Easley is one of the top defensive line prospects in the NFL draft this year. By using only his game tapes to judge, Bleacher Report's own Ryan Riddle believes Easley is better than Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald.
Easley has lined up in almost every position on the Gators' defensive line. There were plays where he lined up as a 0-technique (head up on the center), 3-technique (outside shade of the guard) and 5-technique (head up on the tackle). This shows how versatile Easley can be along the defensive line. However, as Miller stated in the video above, Easley projects best as a 3-technique lineman.
In this play, Easley is lined up at the 3-technique position. When the ball is snapped, Easley shows his elite burst off the line of scrimmage. While Easley is shooting into the A-gap, he flashes in front of the center. Because of the great get-off Easley had, the center does not have time to recover and can only resort to holding Easley. Despite being held, Easley still has the strength and power to get to the quarterback with the center still hanging on him.
Plays like that are commonplace while watching Easley's tape. If Easley hadn't torn his ACL, draft pundits would be discussing him as a top-10 or even a top-five prospect.
Easley is the best collegiate multi-gap lineman I've seen since Melvin Ingram. Had he stayed healthy, there'd be a Clowney/Easley debate.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) April 9, 2014
As Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar stated, some draft pundits may even be discussing whether Easley is in the same tier of talent as South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
“@JohnN916: Starting to like Easley more than Donald - could get in 2nd rd? Played against SEC teams and he looks solid.” Need to see knees— Bryan Broaddus (@BryanBroaddus) March 18, 2014
Dallascowboys.com's Bryan Broaddus (one of Easley's biggest cheerleaders) believes the biggest hurdle for Easley to get over is his medical re-check. Broaddus also states when Easley will get checked again:
You don't need to know Easley's 10-yard split to know he has elite quickness. You don't need to see him bench to know he has great strength. It is all there on the tape. Easley shows that he has the elite physical traits to be a stud 3-technique defensive tackle in the NFL.
He has been perpetually overlooked as a prospect mostly due to injury concerns. However, when May rolls around, some team will be getting a steal in Easley when they draft him in the second or third round. Easley has the skills to become the best defensive player from this year's draft and will become a perennial Pro Bowler if his knees hold up.