FOXBORO -- The Patriots must have really loved Dominique Easley.
For them to pull the trigger on a player who hadn’t played since the third game of his senior season thanks to his second blown ACL in 22 months, means they believe Easley is a rare player. Because what they did is a rare move.
The Patriots have shown they'll take a flier on a guy with some duct tape on his body. The team drafted Rob Gronkowski in the second round of the 2010 draft and he didn’t play his final season at Arizona because of back surgery, for instance.
But that was a second-rounder, a round Bill Belichick has long believed to be the round in which a team rolls the dice on players with red flags.
In the first, you take the sure thing. The guy you virtually know will be there for you on Sundays. A plug-and-play guy.
Easley is not going to be that. He blew his right ACL in September 2013, so he’s eight months removed from the injury. He blew his left ACL in early 2011. The wise thing for the Patriots to do is let the kid heal. The Patriots have the wherewithal to do that.
Along the defensive line, they have their two veterans coming back from injury, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. They have proven young depth in Seaver Siliga, Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. The Patriots have the luxury of waiting for Easley to be ready.
He could be worth waiting for.
Mike Tanier, who writes for the website “Sports On Earth” wrote an excellent feature on Easley last month.
His lead: "Dominique Easley could be the next John Randle or the next Steve Emtman. He could finish his career with 138 sacks or just 19 games started. He could make the Pro Football Hall of Fame or the Knee Surgery Hall of Fame. Among defenders in this year's draft, only Jadeveon Clowney has as much upside as Easley. But Easley is a bigger risk than Clowney. Clowney might not be motivated enough to achieve his full potential. Easley may spend his entire career in Dr. James Andrews' waiting room."
Where is Easley in his rehab? He’s already been programmed to speak obliquely about his health.
When asked about his knee, he said, “I’m healthy.”
Belichick offered no timetable, stating, “When he gets up here we’ll work with him and see where he’s at, just like we do with everyone else.”
Given the state of the knee, it would have seemed the Patriots could have traded down and still gotten Easley.
Belichick indicated the team didn’t feel that way. “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.”
What that statement announces is this: To the Patriots, Easley at 29 was the obvious choice. You couldn’t just throw a blanket over the guys clustered at that point and be happy with any of them. Easley stood out.
So a trade down into the second round to add “value” and more picks meant passing on rare ability. Even if that rare ability is currently injured.
Aside from the knees, there’s plenty to like about Easley as I wrote earlier on Thursday. Team captain. Highly motivated. Extremely versatile.
Easley plays everywhere along the defensive line. “You don’t see a lot of guys who . . . line up on the nose, [line up] on the guard, [line] up on the tackle, [line] up out wide at times,” Belichick said in his post-first round press conference.
It isn’t just about the ability to line up all over the joint. It’s the ability to do something from those spots. Easley can. Or has.
At the Combine, Easley put this spin on his injury. "I tore my ACL in 2011, I got faster in 2013. So when I get back from this ACL, it's going to make me nothing but faster."
Because the Patriots are good, they pick late. The players they select from are going to have more strikes against them than the ones the crap teams get to pick from.
If Easley comes back better, stronger, faster, the Patriots just picked up a top-10 pick to replace Vince Wilfork down the road and be the inside complement to the rest of a defense that’s becoming more daunting to deal with.
If he doesn’t, if Easley goes the road that Emtman did, you have a swing and a miss in the first round.
The Patriots put their change in the slot and pulled the lever. It will take some time to see whether they bust or hit the jackpot.