FOXBORO -- The Patriots must have had an inkling they weren't the only ones interested in Dominique Easley.
Though a handful of defensive tackled remained on the board when it came time for the Patriots to select at No. 29 -- Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III, Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan among them -- they stayed put and submitted Easley's name.
"The way the board ended up, we felt very good about Dominique being available at 29," said coach Bill Belichick said. "He’s been a very good player in a real good program. They’re well-coached down there with Coach [Will] Muschamp. You can see him playing against a lot of good players in that conference. I thought Dominque played very well.
"He’s a versatile guy that’s played different positions along the defensive line. So we’ll just see how it all comes together here, but I’m glad he was able to last that long. I’m looking forward to having him."
If they'd traded down, the Patriots could have acquired assets for later in the draft while still being able to scoop up one of the aforementioned defensive tackles. But they stayed at 29, Belichick said, because they believed Easley was the best player available.
"I mean, there are always conversations" about trades, Belichick said. "But we felt good about Dominique and there were a couple teams behind us that . . . we just didn’t want to take a chance on him [being gone]."
Belichick has long praised the SEC, where his friend Nick Saban coaches Alabama and where pal Urban Meyer used to coach at Florida.
Once again -- as it did with Dont'a Hightower (Alabama), Stevan Ridley (LSU) and others -- that level of competition helped give the Patriots a better sense of how a player plays against the best of the best.
"There are a lot of good football players there," said Belichick, "and I think you can put on just about any film and watch [Easley] against quality players in the SEC or even Louisville last year, they played in whatever bowl it was -- Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, whatever it was [2013 Sugar Bowl]. But you know, there was plenty of good competition.
"You see him against guys that are either in the league from previous years or guys that you have on your draft board this year or you’re going to have on there next year. I think he’s a very disruptive player and he showed up against good competition."
Easley only played in three games as a senior before tearing his ACL and MCL in his left knee in September. Still, he must have showed enough to the Pats to deserve a first-round selection.
Belichick also raved about Easley off the field. Since Easley wasn't able to work out during the pre-draft process, Belichick went about picking his brain during their various meetings leading up to the draft.
"We saw a guy that likes football; smart," Belichick said. "He’s definitely into football. He didn’t really do anything at that workout. We weren’t at his Pro Day. We had a workout with some Florida kids. He wasn’t really able to do anything physically, but we met with him and spent a lot of time with him."
Belichick added: "He’s an all-in guy. There’s not much to not like about him."
Despite Easley's injury history, the Patriots saw enough of him to be all-in themselves.