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Words With Frenz mailbag: Dominique Easley has look of future Patriots defensive tackle

If your paralysis by draft analysis has set in quicker than usual this year, that's because there's a longer space between the start of the 2014 league year and the 2014 NFL draft.

Relax. There's only one month left of pre-draft chatter before draft weekend kicks off at Radio City Music Hall.

As we get closer to the draft, however, the questions get more specific with the picture coming more into focus. The New England Patriots have typically done a good job of addressing all their major needs before the draft begins, but this year, they still have a few holes to fill before their roster is complete.

They must also be keeping an eye toward the future, with several key players coming up for new contracts next offseason and others getting closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.

Let's take a look at some of the questions on the minds of Patriots fans as we get ready for the draft.

There will be a bevy of backs available on the second day of the draft (rounds two and three) with great value. The Patriots went with two backs in 2011, drafting Shane Vereen in the second round and Stevan Ridley in the third round. Both are set to hit the open market in 2015, so the Patriots may need to begin looking for alternatives to develop ahead of that point.

I've picked a running back for the Patriots in several of the six mock drafts I've done so far: Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona), Tre Mason (Auburn) and Bishop Sankey (Washington) look like some good fits, and all have some versatility to their game, which would give the Patriots multiple options when it comes time to make decisions on their backfield.

The Patriots hosted top quarterback prospects Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) for official visits to Gillette Stadium. A.J. McCarron (Alabama) has also been brought in for an official visit, but is not considered a "late round quarterback" as he will probably be taken somewhere in the third or fourth round.

As always, NEPatriotsDraft.com has done a great job of tracking the Patriots' visits, workouts and draft contacts. So far, they've had private workouts with Zach Mettenberger (Louisiana State), Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech), Connor Shaw (South Carolina), Kenny Guiton (Ohio State), and Chase Rettig (Boston College).

I've been on-board with them drafting McCarron since the beginning of the process. If the Patriots are thinking about moving on from Ryan Mallett, they will need a quarterback with an ability to step in and immediately command the offense as an accurate passer who makes good decisions. McCarron's ceiling may be limited due to his lack of arm strength, andthere are some questions as to whether he can be as successful when he's not playing for a juggernaut college program like Alabama where he is surrounded by talent, but in a pinch, he can come in and be an effective game manager.

Speaking of Mallett...

The only way the Patriots trade Mallett is if they end up drafting another quarterback or somehow find a free agent somewhere along the line.

According to Nick Underhill of MassLive.com, the Houston Texans have expressed interest in trading for Mallett. There has previously been trade interest in Mallett. The Cleveland Browns were reportedly interested in trading for Mallett ahead of the 2013 draft. The Patriots reportedly turned down an offer of a second-round pick for Mallett from the Denver Broncos in 2012, ahead of Denver signing Peyton Manning.

In that sense, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Mallett get dealt, but it would be a surprise to see the Patriots do it without having a backup plan already in place.

George, the depth in the draft will probably lower the price of moving up, as teams will be more inclined to want to move back. If it costs less to move up, a team might be more inclined to do so if there is one prospect in particular they really like. However, the depth in the draft suggests that this will be another year where Bill Belichick sticks by his usual tendency to trade back to acquire more picks.

If the Patriots are going to move up for anyone, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald would be a good choice. The Patriots met with Donald in Indianapolis during the scouting combine. It's impossible to know how that meeting went, but if it went anything like his workout, the Patriots probably fell in love with him the minute he walked in the door. Donald is slightly undersized at 6-feet-tall and 288 pounds, but he has great burst off the snap to get into the backfield and is exactly the kind of pass-rushing presence in the middle of the defensive line the Patriots have been missing for years. He may not be available when the Patriots pick at No. 29, though, so they would have to trade up to get him.

One more thing to keep in mind: the Patriots only have six draft picks for 2015. It may be wise for them to add to their supply of picks for next season, in a draft that could be considerably more top-heavy than this year's draft.

It's close. There are a lot of defensive tackles to like in this class, including Louis Nix (Notre Dame), Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame), and RaShede Hageman (Minnesota), but my personal favorite is Dominique Easley (Florida).

It seems like every undersized defensive tackle gets compared to Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, but Easley may deserve that comparison more than most other prospects this year. At 6-foot-2 and 288 pounds, his quick burst off the snap is his best weapon in making plays in the backfield. He has a unique way of lining up at the line of scrimmage that makes him difficult to block and keep the shoulders square. He could use to add some strength, but an NFL training program can help him accomplish that goal.

His competitive streak stands out when watching his college footage. He has a non-stop motor and seemingly never gives up on a play, even when he's been blocked to the ground.

The only problem with Easley is that he is primarily a one-gap defensive tackle getting into the backfield. He is not the two-gap, read-and-react style of defensive lineman the Patriots have targeted in the past. If they continue to look for better gap-plugging defensive tackles, Tuitt would be a great fit. Tuitt has drawn comparisons to Richard Seymour for his ability to contain multiple gaps, but also to attack the line and find his way into the backfield.

This goes back to the previous question: Why bother trading up when there will be talented players available when you pick? This draft is deep enough to warrant staying put. Easley and Tuitt should both be available when the Patriots pick in the first round, and possibly even later. There will be plenty of defensive tackles on the board when the 29th pick rolls around. The Patriots could have their pick of plenty of talented players if they stay put.

Thanks everyone! Further questions, as always, can go in the comments section or send me a tweet and I'll answer there. Thanks for reading.



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