The headlines are always elsewhere when it comes to the NFL draft and the Patriots.
While the nation watched breathlessly as Johnny Football kept sliding and sliding down the first round – all the way to 22 and the Cleveland Browns – the Patriots simply did what they always do: confound nearly everyone.
The Patriots didn’t trade up, didn’t trade down as many expected. Instead, they used the 29th selection of the first round to take Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley.
Easley was a name many draft experts had mentioned, but not necessarily in the first round. While most feel he has exceptional talent, he also has suffered two knee injuries in college.
Last year he tore the ACL and medial meniscus in his right knee during a September practice and played just three games for Florida.He had five tackles, two for losses. In 2011, he tore the ACL in his left knee in the regular-season finale and missed playing in the Gator Bowl.
Because of those injuries, he was projected to go in the middle rounds. But Bill Belichick has never shied away from drafting players coming off injuries. He took Rob Gronkowski even though the tight end had back surgery and has made other selections on players coming off severe injuries.
In his press conference afterward, Belichick said the Patriots had Easley as the best player on their board and didn’t want to pass him up because several teams behind them wanted him as well.
He called Easley "disruptive” several times and noted that his college statistics may have been deceiving because Easley may not have received credit for a tackle on a play that he blew up in the backfield.
"He showed a good knack for that,” said Belichick.
Easley has a huge upside. He is regarded as a disruptive player and will give the Patriots a jolt at a position where they are aging and coming off injuries. Tackles Vince Wilfork (achilles) and Tommy Kelly (knee) missed most of the 2013 season.
At just under 6-foot-2 and weighing 288 pounds, he is considered a little undersized. But his is athletic enough to play at defensive end as well as tackle.
Easley is the fifth defensive lineman taken in the first round by the Patriots under Belichick. The others: Chandler Jones (2012), Wilfork (2004), Ty Warren (2003) and Richard Seymour (2001).
The first three were pivotal members of New England’s Super Bowl championship teams.
This was a position of vital need for the Patriots and they took someone who can have an immediate impact if he stays healthy. Most feel he could have been a Top Ten pick if he was healthy.
Mike Mayock, the NFL Media analyst, called this, "a typical Bill Belichick pick. The rest of the league discounted his talent, but he’ll be in training camp. The Patriots needed defensive linemen and this kid is gifted.”
The NFL draft continues Friday at 7 p.m. with Rounds 2 and 3. The Patriots, unless they trade (which is always possible), have the 62nd pick and 93rd pick.