FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots held pat in the first round of the NFL draft, choosing to bolster the team’s defensive line by selecting Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley.
The Patriots had long been expected to select a defensive lineman by a wide array of NFL draft observers. Easley, who was a four-year player for the Gators, compiled 72 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, and 5.5 sacks as a run stuffer.
Despite an overwhelming sense the team would trade its first round pick (the Patriots have traded down 16 times under head coach Bill Belichick and traded up 17 times), the team held steady.
Easley comes with concerns though. He tore two ACLs, both in his left and right legs, while at Florida. But his tremendous upside as a run stuffer must have outweighed any worries about his injury history. At 6-2 and 280 pounds, he was one of top rated defensive tackles in the draft, behind only Aaron Donald (drafted 13th overall by St. Louis). Other defensive tackles with fewer concerns about their health were also expected to be drafted by the Patriots but remain on the board, including Minnesota’s Re’Shede Hageman, Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt, and Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III.
Easley is the fifth defensive lineman to be drafted by the Patriots in the first round, including Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, and Chandler Jones. He is expected to help shore up the defensive tackle position which is manned by Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, both of whom are coming off serious injuries of their own. Wilfork is coming off an Achilles’ tear and Kelly is coming off a knee injury.
The last time the Patriots picked in the first round, in 2012, they selected both Jones (No. 21 overall) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower (No. 25 overall) after moving up. The last time the team picked at No. 29, the Patriots opted to go with cornerback Chris Canty in 1997 out of Kansas State. Canty played 32 games in two seasons for the Patriots with 10 starts.
The Patriots own seven more selections in the NFL draft, including a second round pick (No. 62), a third round pick (No. 93), two fourth round picks (Nos. 130 and 140), a fifth round pick (No. 169), two sixth rounders (Nos. 198 and 206), and a seventh rounder (No. 244).
Some personal notes on Easley:
– He’s from Staten Island, N.Y., where he attended Curtis High School.
– Was an EA Sports All-American in high school in 2009.
– He majored in general studies at Florida.
– Has a 1-year old son, Dominique Easley II.
Zuri Berry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.