NFL Draft 2014: What Has NFL Scouts Excited About Florida DT Dominique Easley?

Cian FaheyFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley (2) is shown during an NCAA football game against Miami, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Alan Diaz

Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Sammy Watkins, Dominique Easley and Khalil Mack. Even though one of those names is likely unknown to you, each of these players make up the most talented non-quarterbacks in this year's NFL draft.

Easley is the name that stands out. He is the one player who isn't receiving much media attention because he is not projected to go in the top 10 of the draft.

The former Florida defensive lineman will likely be taken at the end of the first round or at some point in the second. For most exceptionally talented players, that drop would be seen as an insult or knock on his draft stock. For Easley, it's a compliment to his skill set.

Easley isn't projected to go in the top 10 of the draft because he has torn the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in each of his knees over the past three years.

There are many current NFL players performing on a high level after two torn ACL injuries. Thomas Davis, who actually suffered three, may be the most famous, while Lardarius Webb, who returned after his second last season, is probably the most effective.

Davis and Webb aren't just exceptions to a general rule either. Terrell Thomas, Michael Mauti, Chris Clemons and Robert Griffin III have already returned to the field, while Bryan Bulaga's career is expected to resume this season.

In spite of others' success returning to the field, franchises obviously can't discount these major medical red flags when evaluating prospects for the draft.

Just last season we saw the impact of major injuries on exceptionally talented prospects. Cornellius Carradine fell to 40th overall after just one torn ACL that prevented him from working out before the draft. Marcus Lattimore, someone who suffered two torn ACLs, including one gruesome leg injury, dropped to the fourth round, but that was to be expected for someone playing running back.

Easley isn't a running back. He is a very versatile defensive tackle who can line up over different gaps and play outside as a defensive end.

While his tape is limited by his injuries, Easley did do enough on the field to show off his special talent. His first ACL tear came during the 2011 season. He was ready to play during the 2012 season, and his performance wasn't hampered on the field even though he missed some time because of swelling.

He played just three games in 2013 before tearing his other ACL, but his performances during those games suggested he was well on his way to being a top-five draft pick.

Everything Easley does on the field begins with his burst off the snap. Not only does he have an exceptional ability to react to the football and the athleticism to engage blockers before they have even left their stances, he also does it consistently on a snap-by-snap basis.

As the red arrow shows, Easley is lined up as the left defensive tackle in a five-man defensive line. He is lined up directly across from the gap between the right guard and the right tackle. He is slightly ahead of his teammates, but he is onside and is not directly over the ball, so it's not easy for him to watch it and react to it when it is snapped.

Easley has both hands on the ground, so he is in a four-point stance that allows him to explode forward at the snap.

As this image shows, Easley's get-off at the snap is so quick that he has made contact with the right tackle before his teammates have even crossed the line of scrimmage. Not only that, but none of his teammates are even out of their stances.

Even the nose tackle on this play, who was lined up directly over the ball, is still in his stance at this point.

As his teammates come out of their stances, Easley is already pushing his way past the right tackle. The right tackle is at a disadvantage because he couldn't react as quickly off the snap, but the presence of the right guard took away Easley's space to counter that.

The right tackle does very well to initially pick up Easley and prevent him from cleanly penetrating through the offensive line into the backfield.

However, Easley continues to work through contact, and he is spinning free on the outside shoulder of the right tackle. At this point of the play, he is held up, but he is still as far advanced down the field as the two unblocked edge-rushers.

That is a result of his ability to get out of his stance faster than anyone else on the field.

Being exceptionally quick to move at the snap is a nice skill to have, but combining that quickness with control, intelligence, strength and intensity is what makes Easley special.

On this play, Easley is lined up directly over the football. This doesn't mean he jumps straight forward at the snap. Instead he quickly springs upward and extends his hands to engage the center. However, the protection was sliding to the right so the center went away from Easley.

Instead, Easley was left battling air with his hands until the left guard came his way. Easley didn't panic, he simply adjusted to the outside and worked past the left guard's outside shoulder to pressure the quarterback.

Easley dipped his head underneath the left guard and used his momentum against him by bringing his hands to his chest and attacking his outside shoulder. The intelligence to do this was impressive, but the strength and speed to highlight that intelligence was also evident.

Easley is officially listed at 6'2", 288 pounds. He has a relatively slender body build for a defensive tackle.

Size will be a concern for some teams with Easley, but he uses his length very well to counter that size and his strength becomes apparent when working against double teams. He doesn't solely rely on his strength to beat/maintain position against double-teams, but that should be seen as a positive rather than a negative.

On this play, Easley uses his quickness at the snap to gain good position between the two blockers in front of him. He extends his arms quickly to keep the defenders off of him and moves continues to move forward for a moment through contact.

The pass was thrown quickly and Easley was eventually pushed sideways, but it was a clear sign of his potential against double-teams.

This second play is much more impressive because we get to see Easley work through the blockers. He very quickly punches the first defender to push him sideways, before spinning away from the second. The combination of strength, quickness, body control and awareness on this play is what makes concerns over Easley's frame minor.

Even though most of Easley's success on the field is based on his ability to penetrate the pocket with his quickness and beat blockers with his hand usage, he also has the strength to overwhelm offensive linemen in one-on-one battles.

These three plays show off how Easley uses his strength in different ways. The first sees him throw a lineman down with his arms. The second shows off his great hand usage to get his arm into the blocker's chest. The third sees him work through the blocker's shoulder while on the move.

It's obvious that Easley is an incredible athlete.

He is also generally a very disciplined player. However, he does have plays where he appears to be too quick to attack upfield. This is something that will cause a problem on the next level, but not a major one. Especially not a major one when he has the athletic ability to make up for any poor positioning.

Easley immediately penetrates upfield here even though the offense is running a stretch to the right.

Realistically, Easley would have been best suited to slide with the offensive lineman in front of him before trying to penetrate the wall created by the zone-blocking approach. Instead he is so fast into the backfield that he is able to catch the running back before he can get into a position to hurt the defense.

Penetration and disruption is generally first associated with rushing the passer. However, it's also vital when defending the run from inside. Run-stuffing defensive tackles are no longer reliant on that space-eater style of years gone by.

Just like fellow 2014 defensive tackle prospect Aaron Donald, teams will always be wary of pulling offensive linemen away from Easley. His speed to slide into the backfield makes that kind of play too dangerous.

Not only does Easley quickly penetrate the backfield here, he also reads the blocking and immediately moves laterally to the line of scrimmage. Once he recognizes that the running back isn't actually following that blocking wide, he quickly adjusts and locates the ball for the tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

It's obvious that Easley has the ability to play the run and the pass. He projects as a three-down defensive tackle in the NFL.

With any potential three-down defensive lineman in the NFL, effort and stamina will be a concern. Projecting how many snaps Easley can play on a week-to-week basis is impossible. That is one of the issues that must be faced when selecting an injured player.

Projecting his effort is much easier.

Easley has a relentless work rate that allows him to effect plays from situations that should see him easily blocked off. He consistently chases down ball-carriers and works to get to the quarterback whether he is in the pocket or scrambling into the flat.

This play best shows off Easley's effort.

He initially attacks the left guard. That left guard is a big body who quickly contacts Easley. Easley works his feet through contact and is pushing him backwards. However, he is then chipped by the running back. This is the point of the play where Easley could have given up.

Instead, Easley uses the momentum of the chip and controls his spin with precise footwork to get in the quarterback's face.

While he doesn't get the sack, he does disrupt the timing of the play as a whole and affect the quarterback's throw. He may not have been the one catching the football, but Easley is the one who forced the interception on this play.

As a defensive tackle, Easley's talent is incredible. Much like Michael Bennett, his value isn't limited to one position.

Versatile is a word that is used loosely at this time of the year. Too many prospects who line up at different spots in college are considered versatile players regardless of their success at those spots. Even prospects who are effective in different spots in college may not translate to the NFL that way.

True versatility comes from players who not only line up in different spots and carry out different roles, but also carry over their talent and effectiveness to those different spots and roles.

Easley's comfort level on the field regardless of what he is doing points to his versatility. He won't ever be a space-eating nose tackle, but he can line up in every single spot along the defensive line to rush the passer.

Lining up as the right defensive end here, Easley is working against the left tackle in space. He doesn't aggressively come out of his stance. Instead, he is wary of the running back coming to his side. He evades the potential chip while taking the left tackle off balance with his hesitation moves.

Once he sees his opportunity, he uses his hands to get into the blocker's chest and push him back with a bull rush.

Easley's presence forces the quarterback to escape into the opposite flat. Despite him leaving the pocket, Easley continues working through his bull rush and eventually gets to the other side of the left tackle. That is the point when the left tackle pulls him down.

All of the plays featured in this article came from just two games. Easley took over the Miami game and was just as disruptive against Tennessee.

Small sample sizes can be misleading, but Easley's 2012 tape backs up what his 2013 tape suggests. He could be the best player from this draft class in a couple of years. All of that depends on how he recovers from his ACL injuries.

Even in a very deep draft, Easley isn't expected to drop out of the second round. It's still possible that he goes in the first round because a team could see him as the next Michael Bennett even in a limited role.