SI Quoting BB:
“He’s played everywhere along the defensive line,” the coach said on May 8, just after the first round wrapped up. “It depends on where you put him. I’ll say you don’t see a lot of guys who do that – who play, I mean, 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 does a lot of things well. He’s a smart guy, he’s 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.”
Easley’s most prominent attribute is that he can play convincingly and at a starter level in so many gaps. There are multiple examples of him blowing up protections everywhere. He even has the speed and turn to disrupt from a wide-nine stance. For his size, Easley flashes tremendous upper-body strength — he plays 20 or 30 pounds heavier than he is in that sense, but he has the field speed and agility of a linebacker when he’s in space or covering in short areas. Gets his hands on blockers right off the snap and uses his hands very well — will use hand-strikes, swim and rip moves, and pure bull-rushes to drive through or get past to the backfield. Didn’t do a lot of stunting and looping for the Gators, but he clearly has the skillset to do so. And when he’s lined up in a stunt formation (at a 45-degree angle against the line), Easley is just about unblockable because he gets through with such explosive speed.
And it’s his positional versatility that makes him so appealing to the Patriots in their current defensive iterations.
In two games against the Denver Broncos last season (Week 12 and the AFC Championship Game), the Patriots lined up for 166 total defensive snaps. They sacked Peyton Manning once. They amassed three quarterback hits (none in the conference championship game) and 14 quarterback hurries. And this was a defense that ranked fifth in the league in sacks with 48. But the inability to adjust personnel against no-huddle was one of the things that kept New England out of the Super Bowl. Belichick didn’t forget that Denver had 41 no-huddle snaps in the game that gave it the AFC crown.
“They did a good job of mixing up plays,” Belichick said of the Broncos after that game. “As always, [Manning] did an excellent job of reading the defenses and he got us in some situations that were less than ideal with his astute play-calling and recognition. We disguised, and I think we got him a few times, but he certainly got us a few times, too. And they’ve got a lot of good players. They’re a tough team to match up against with all the skill players they have; backs, tight ends, receivers. They have, obviously a good football team, a good offensive system, and a good quarterback.”
The best way — perhaps the only way — to consistently counter an NFL no-huddle offense is to acquire players who have the ability to affect the passing game without substitutions. On the fly, moving to different gaps, and with multiple techniques. That’s why the Patriots took the gamble on Easley.