Florida’s Dominique Easley came into this season as somewhat of an unfinished project. While he has been a terrific athlete with incredible potential, his technique was not at a point where he could take full advantage of it. He would play too high and lose his leverage and be easily neutralized by opponents.
Then, the bowl game against Louisville happened. While critics would say much of the Gator team was not playing motivated football for that game, Easley had a breakthrough and played his best football of the year. He was firing out low, exploding forward, and playing behind his pads, and he was not just good, but he was a dominant player in that game. All of his impressive athleticism was put to use and he was the player many thought he could be. Coming into this season, the question was if that was a genuine light bulb moment or if Easley would fall back into old habits. It was not and he did not.
Instead, he was one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the country until he suffered a torn ACL in practice that ended his season. Unfortunately for Easley, this is the second ACL tear of his career and now has one on each knee. Easley has opted to go ahead and declare for the NFL Draft in 2014. He has the time to get healthy enough to work out before the draft with almost 8 months before that occurs. The medical checks at the combine will be enormous as teams check the status of both teams and that will determine where he goes in the NFL Draft. Based on what he was showing, he should still be picked in the top 100, but that is difficult to project without more knowledge of his status and information that will not be known until February or March.
Vitals & Build
Easley is listed at 6’2” 285lbs and is a remarkable athlete. He is incredibly agile and explosive with good speed, but his body control can be less than ideal at times. Easley appears to have some solid strength and has been able to make the adjustment to use far more of it. He appears to have a good amount of room to continue adding potential to his frame but the question is at what point he will start losing athleticism. Easley might be best suited to play around 290-295lbs.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Easley is incredibly explosive off the snap and tends to be right on with the snap count. He is always working to get an edge and guess the count, but at times he will get caught jumping and get called for being offsides.
His first step is terrific and he is able to cover a good amount of ground while picking up speed and momentum. With the adjustment to firing out so much lower and more out than up, Easley’s first step went from good to elite. It also gave him options. With his ability to play lower and take more advantage of his strength with great leverage, he was able to shoot gaps as a penetrator, but he is perfectly happy to take the center and drive him straight back into the play and find the ball from there.
When he gets behind his pads and plays lower to the ground, he can be a dynamic presence on the defensive line. He has impressive strength and can use a bull rush, push-pull move, and win with quickness either around the edge or with agility shooting gaps. Combination of using his strength and being a lower target make him a far more difficult player for opponents to try to compete against.
Especially when lined up at end and forced to chase an opposing lineman, he can end up getting too tall and running upright, which can be problematic for him. He loses his advantage with leverage and is far more easily neutralized.
Easley’s ability so shoot gaps and play with strength makes him able to be a disruptive run defender as he always keeps the opponent on their toes in guessing what he is trying to do. If they assume he is coming right at them and tries to establish an anchor with a strong base, he can fly right past them. If they are concerned with his ability to shoot the gaps, he can get under their pads and drive them off the ball.
As a result, even if Easley is not making the play himself, he is disrupting the play. With his ability to collapse the pocket, he makes it so opponents have to run around him or at least know he is there.
Easley is not quite as effective as a pass rusher as he is a run defender, but that is not a slight. He is just that impressive against the run. Whether lined up inside or out, he has the quickness and speed to put pressure on the quarterback. When he is lined up outside, he needs to avoid standing up and chasing down the play; rather, he ne needs to find a way to be able to sink his hips and reset himself lower so he maintains his strength.
If he can do that, he can make the adjustment from speed to power and be a devastating rusher as well as simply being able to use speed or power individually. As he has found out inside, his success depends on his pad level and that has to continue as an outside rusher.
Due to the adjustments he made for this year, he suddenly looks like a tremendous fit as a 3-technique defensive tackle. He could play power end in a few schemes as well because of just how athletic he is, but his overall lack of length is not ideal for that or in a 3-4 scheme as a 5-technique end that could be a rush tackle on passing downs. Easley is at his best as a penetrator with options to use power and get right on the opponent immediately.
Easley’s game as it was this year was similar to that of current Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle, Geno Atkins. They have similar, scary athletic ability and length. Atkins is much bigger now, but he did not come out of the draft quite that way, though still heavier than Easley. Easley was a little more polished this year than Atkins was coming out of Georgia. It would be extremely difficult for Easley to reach the level Atkins has gotten to, especially in light of this recent medical news, but the potential is there as are the similarities.
Projecting Easley, now with the ACL tear is incredibly difficult. His physical ability is phenomenal and the light had gone on for him from a technical standpoint. Easley was not perfect, but he went from potential to impact player. Still, the knee injury and how he recovers from it and how the medical checks go before the draft will determine everything. He could end up getting drafted into a situation like former Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine who was still a second round pick with an ACL tear he suffered in December of last year, but unless the medical check is a disaster, it seems like a 4-3 team will grab him in the top 100.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com