Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley played in five games as a true freshman, but was limited for the better part of the year by an ankle injury. As a sophomore in 2011, he earned a starting position and played in 12 games, registering 37 tackles (7.5 for loss) and 1.5 sacks. In the regular-season finale against Florida State, he tore the ACL in his left knee and missed playing in the Gator Bowl. After rehabilitating his knee, Easley returned to the field in 2012, starting 11 games (he missed two with a sprained meniscus) at defensive end, and tallying 26 stops (with a staggering 8.5 behind the line) and four sacks. In 2013, Easley started the first three games before his season was derailed by another nasty knee injury suffered in a non-contact practice drill.
Thanks to the Tsars of Tape at Draft Breakdown, we can see two of Easley's three 2013 games - against in-state rival Miami and SEC foe Tennessee - as well as four others from previous years. As the tape shows, when healthy, Easley's explosiveness rivals any defensive tackle in this year's draft. He also has quick, active hands to slap away blockers and has surprising core strength for his size, which enables him to hold up well against the run. In short, he's a perfect fit for Dallas' defensive scheme. In addition, he is an "RKG": Although he had some issues early in his time in Gainesville, he has grown into a hard working, well-respected member of the team, and was elected one of the Gators' team captains.
Dane Brugler (NFLDraftScout.com): 2nd-ranked DT; no overall grade
Strengths: Explosive first step movements and suddenness off the snap to shoot gaps - instant acceleration with lateral burst...very good initial hand use and active limbs, rushing with purpose and changing speed to power...excellent job attacking with angles to force blockers out of position - will cause holding calls...rangy to make plays at the sidelines with his high energy pursuit skills...relentless through the whistle and gives full effort on each snap with his non-stop motor...smart, aware player with a nose for the ball - game seems to come easy to him...experience all over the defensive line, lining up inside and outside the last four seasons (26 career starts)...very hard worker in the weight room, adding 35 pounds since high school and pushing himself post-injury with a positive, fun loving attitude - determined toughness, both physically and mentally.
Weaknesses: Limited frame and build with a near maxed out body type...not a long-limbed rusher and struggles vs. multiple blockers, lacking the brute strength to disengage once locked up - needs to be protected...needs to consistently keep himself under control to better break down at contact and not overrun plays...tends to wear himself out due to his high motor style and will be in/out of the game due to fatigue...needs to be a more disciplined tackler, especially in the pocket, to avoid roughing penalties...very average production with only 5.5 sacks in 26 career starts...long-term durability is a strong concern with two non-contact ACL injuries on his sheet, his left knee (Nov. 2011) and his right knee (Sept. 2013) - is he susceptible to lower body injuries?
Summary: A five-star DL recruit, Easley narrowed his college choices down to Oregon, Penn State, Miami (FL) and Florida, choosing the Gators. He didn't see much of the field in 2010 as a true freshman before becoming a sophomore starter in 2011, but he didn't finish the season healthy after tearing the ACL in his left knee. Despite some minor knee swelling that caused him to miss a few games, Easley returned in 2012 and started 11 games, posting career-highs in tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (4.0). He was on pace for his best season in 2013 as a senior before tearing the ACL and medial meniscus in his right knee in during practice, ending his season and collegiate career (could have received a medical redshirt, but declined). Easley, who has a one-year old son, lacks ideal size/length/strength dimensions, but is able to be highly disruptive with his first step burst and snap reaction to penetrate and live on the other side of the LOS. He attacks gaps and wins with angles, making an impact even if he doesn't get the stop. Easley has strong durability questions due to two non-contact ACL injuries, one to each knee, including one that he is still rehabbing from, but he is a high character individual with a strong work ethic who understands the process and has handled this adversity once before. He is a legitimate top-half of round one talent, but the medicals will ultimately decide his draft and NFL future - when healthy, projects as a disruptive 1- or 3-technique.
Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 5th-ranked DT; 64th overall
Versus the Run: Sudden and explosive. Fires off the ball low and plays with consistently good leverage. Stronger upper body than lower body but has very good balance and doesn't leave feet very often. Shows very good awareness locating ball carrier while engaged with blockers. Can become more consistent with disengage skills but has quick and violent hands, and made big strides in this area in limited 2013 views. Closes quickly for his size. Flashes good initial pop as a tackler. However, has a history of coming in hot and leaving feet too early, which has led to too many missed tackles.
Pass Rush Skills: Very good get-off quickness. Consistently penetrates gaps and/or jars OL with initial strike. Capable of successfully converting speed-to-power. Adequate push-pull move. Has strong hand-to-hand combat potential, but needs polishing. Can get engulfed if OL sets and gets hands into his pads. Lacks ideal flexibility. Adequate redirect skills. However, shows very good straight-line closing burst for size. Displays good awareness and is relentless in pursuit. More productive than sack total indicates (frequently forces QB off spot early and also has induced several holding calls while closing in on QB, including back-to-back plays early 2nd QTR vs. Miami 2013).
Quickness (hands/ feet): Explodes off the snap. Consistently penetrates gaps and disrupts. Hands are quick and violent. Noticeably improved upper-body explosiveness late final two seasons. Bench press (26 reps) above average for size/arm length.
Toughness/ Motor: Elite motor. Lays it all on the field. Consistently pursues run from backside. Plays with an edge. Love his temperament. Displayed improved confidence late in 2012 and it carried over to 2013.
Intangibles: Had some immaturity as a freshman and rubbed some teammates wrong way. Also had altercation with former Alabama defensive back Reggie Myles outside Ben Griffin Stadium after Alabama beat Florida October 1, 2011. No charges were filed. Reportedly has matured in past two years. Emerged as strong defensive leader late in career. Works hard in practice. Coachable and has good football character. Excellent effort in weight room. Team captain.
Dan Shonka (Ourlads): 8th-ranked DT; 78th overall
Three-year starter with experience at defensive tackle and end. Sudden and explosive to get penetration or gain an advantage upfield. Unlocks his hips with force. Plays with a good power base and lower body strength with knee bend to stack the point of attack. A one-gap player who is highly motivated to use his hands to control the blocker, close down inside with authority, and disrupt an offensive blocking scheme. Easley doesn't have the gaudy stats of some players because he is part of a six-man rotation. A quick twitch athlete who is flexible and always around the ball. A scheme specific defender. Injury history, which includes a torn ACL in 2013 and one in 2011.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 10th-ranked DT; no overall grade
Strengths: Has natural leverage to give blockers fits. Explodes off the snap -- thrusts into gaps and wins with suddenness. Plays on his feet. Quick, active paws -- shoots his hands and locks out. Disruptive penetrating ability. Relentless and energetic. Excellent pursuit effort -- doesn't quit on plays and chases outside the box and downfield. Has played inside and outside. Works hard in the weight room.
Weaknesses: Lacks ideal length and bulk. Could stand to get functionally stronger. Has short arms and can be neutralized by larger linemen. Cannot be counted on to two-gap. Average production. Can be overaggressive and lose sight of the ball. Durability is a concern -- both knees have required ACL surgery.
Draft Projection: Rounds 3-4
Bottom Line: Undersized, explosive, athletic, high-motor three-technique whose junior season was cut short in Week 3 by a knee injury. Injury history will likely affect his draft stock, but when healthy, he shows the ability to disrupt the backfield and pressure the quarterback. Fits best in an aggressive scheme in which he could use his quickness to slant, stunt and shoot gaps. Medical evaluations will determine draft standing.
Although our panelists have fairly divergent opinions about where Easley should be drafted, they are united on one thing: were he healthy, he would be drafted significantly higher, most likely sometime in the draft's first 20 picks. Typically, a still-healing injury lowers a player a full round, as it did with Bruce Carter (who, if healthy would have been a top-15 pick) in 2011. As the Cowboys did with Carter, I think some team will take a chance on the former Gator in the second round. With this in mind, I'll slot Easley in round two on my "little board."
Given the scars they continue to nurse after watching other second round "injury fallers" in Sean Lee and Bruce Carter fail to stay healthy as pros, can the Cowboys afford to take another first-round caliber injury risk in the second round? The key here, of course, is the medical reports from Easley's recent visit to the Ranch. If he checks, out, it will be hard for the team to pass on such a dynamic talent (indeed, several scouts say that, if healthy, he'd be a better prospect - and a better for for the Cowboys' defensive scheme - than Aaron Donald). There are only so many risks a team can take during a given draft. If they can get a solid player (i.e., Zack Martin, not Anthony Barr) in round one, I'd be more likely to applaud a second round risk on a guy like Easley.
Later today: Now that you've seen how the national draftniks rate Easley, stay tuned for our in-house scout, Joey Ickes, who will post a detailed film study of the former Gator. Also, we'll have a draft profile piece on four late-round defensive tackle targets: Texas Tech's Kerry Hyder; Ken Bishop of Northern Illinois; Arizona State DT Davon Coleman; and former Longhorn Chris Whaley