It’s that fourth sentence of Bill Belichick’s late-night assessment of first-round pick Dominique Easley, a ferocious if scar-kneed defensive lineman from Florida, that is particularly encouraging to hear, even as we’ve come to expect the coach to offer the plaudit about any prospect with which he is particularly smitten:
“He does a lot of things well,” Belichick said. “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; versatile.”
Football is very important to him. Maybe that’s become a cliche at this point, but it’s a cliche that matters. Going through the motions in the NFL is arguably the fastest and most direct path out of the NFL.
If Easley truly does love to play — and his film suggests a relentless that makes a Patriots fan consider all sorts of hopeful possibilities — that’s a fine place to start as he enters the NFL’s vicious job force.
Over the next several autumns and winters, over so many months and hopefully years, we’ll get the answers to two far more important questions:
Can he play?
The first one can’t be fully answered until he actually, you know, plays. But the harbingers and highlight-reels are beyond encouraging …
… and his overall ability draws raves. Sports On Earth’s Mike Tanier compared him to Hall of Famer John Randle. Grantland’s Robert Mays raved about his ability, writing:
There are plays when it looks like he’s teleporting into the backfield. One of the gripes from scouts is that sometimes, he’s moving too fast, actually running past whoever’s toting the ball. I’m not sure I consider that an actual problem. Easley is also notably strong for someone a bit undersize. More than once in that clip, he just marches a guard back into the quarterback until both of them fall down. The nerdy stuff is there, too. He bends naturally back toward the quarterback as a pass-rusher, and his hands are powerful and sudden. The point is, he’s got a lot working for him.
When the Patriots selected him with the 29th pick, Doug Farrar, another NFL writer I respect very much, tweeted this:
If Easley stays healthy, the Pats just killed everyone else in the first round of this draft.
— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) May 9, 2014
Easley could help immediately, and possibly in a big way. But there’s a reason a player some had projected as a top-five prospect in terms of ability was available at the back end of the first round.
He’s already had two major knee injuries, tearing one ACL in 2011 and the other last spring. Those are recoverable injuries — he did already come back from one and thrive with a brilliant 2012 season — but given that it’s happened to him twice, it’s not something to be dismissed and shrugged away.
Mel Kiper Jr., stumped annually by the Patriots and well aware of it, sniffed that Easley’s durability (or lack thereof) had him on his board as a second- or third-round pick at best. I hope this turns out as well for him as his skepticism of the Logan Mankins pick back in 2005.
He’s the quintessential high-risk, high-reward player, though it’s encouraging that the risk is related to physical health rather than character. Seems to me an injury-prone player who loves the game is a better bet than a durable knucklehead who takes plays off.
But you know what? Given where the Patriots are — a serious Super Bowl contender with a brilliant quarterback whose twilight is coming in a couple of years — I am all for using the 29th pick to take a shot at a player who would have gone much higher but for two injuries.
It sounds like Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champions, had the same master plan, and traded out of the first-round when Easley was no longer available. Don’t know about you, but I’m fine with accumulating defensive players coveted by the Seahawks. Seems like a pretty sound strategy.
Yes, Easley’s an “if.” So? They’re all ifs, even top pick Jadeveon Clowney. Taking someone like Easley, at a position of need, if they believe he’s a better bet than Louis Nix or Stephen Tuitt or Ra’Shede Hageman, is exactly what they should be doing this year.
Forget the future bets. Easley should make them better now.
Kudos to the Patriots for spending the pick on a kid who can help immediately, even if his repaired knees make him a slightly higher risk to be someone who doesn’t help at all.
His new coach says Easley loves the game. There’s little doubt that he can play it well. Now let’s just hope his body gives him a real chance to prove it, over and over again, one crumbled opponent at a time.