Dominique Easley at #32 to Seattle. Is it unrealistic? Maybe. Is it totally out of the question? Perhaps not.
You can’t get away from the two serious ACL injuries and the flags attached to that situation. If the medical checks say he has a high risk of further setbacks or he’ll lose some of his elite quickness and get off — he won’t be considered by anyone in round one.
Yet over the last couple of weeks I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the debate of Seattle considering him at #32. I’m not saying it will happen, but here’s the reasons why it possibly could:
— Other players have recovered from two major knee injuries in college to forge successful pro careers. Frank Gore had exactly the same experience — suffering ACL injuries to both knees in separate seasons before entering the draft. He’s been one of the most durable players in the NFL since 2005 — despite playing the position that takes the biggest beating. If Gore can make it work, why not Easley?
— Unlike Cyrus Kouandjio, all the current talk about Easley’s health is positive. He had a good work out in Florida in front of a number of scouts and coaches (see video below). There’s been no negative reports or leaks regarding his status. He’s writing a draft diary for Fox Sports and in this weeks edition he mentioned he will return to Indianapolis for a fresh medical check — a process all injured prospects go through. If it’s positive news — and with Easley already seven months into rehab — he’ll be gaining a lot of momentum.
— Make no mistake, Easley is a high pick without the injuries. You’re talking about an explosive difference maker who can line up anywhere on the defensive line. He’ll consistently collapse the pocket, impacting the run and the pass. Even if he’s not recording the sack, see how often the quarterback has to escape the pocket because he’s quickly into the backfield with an incredible burst. Despite lacking ideal size or arm length — he holds the point against the run and has the lateral agility to move down the line and stretch out running plays. He has a relentless sparky motor, a tone setter on defense and an incredible competitor. Don’t underestimate the character he’s shown trying to fight through two serious injuries. You’ll see a tape breakdown vs Toldeo (2013) at the bottom of this article.
— Tony Pauline recently tweeted he’d go in the second round with the Seahawks showing a lot of interest. Seattle owns the final pick before round two. If all of the top tackles and receivers are drafted before #32, could he be a wild card alternative?
— The Seahawks have an insider when it comes to Easley. Dan Quinn spent two years as Florida’s defensive coordinator before rejoining the Seahawks. He’ll know all about the pro’s and con’s. Sometimes familiarity means you judge with a more critical eye. There’s no guarantee Quinn is banging the table for Easley — for all we know the opposite is true. But what if he is in there, fighting his corner despite the injuries? After all — the coaches in Florida made him a team captain.
— Matt Elam, last years #32 pick, has a cap hit peak of $2.15m on his rookie contract. It builds up to that number in year four from a starting point of $1.2m. The Ravens have a fifth year option on the deal. There’s no financial risk in taking Easley with the final pick in round one. If you grade him in the top-20 and you get positive news on his recovery, it’s not even that much of a gamble.
— Some people might argue taking Easley would be a luxury given the needs on the roster. However, could they target a receiver at #64 (eg, Brandon Coleman) and load up on offensive linemen using Cable’s later-round list? You could still fill your needs, while also getting a major impact player for your defensive line.
— The 49ers drafted Tank Carradine with the #40 pick last year — a player in a similar situation. Unlike Carradine, however, Easley is much further along in his rehab and shouldn’t need to be redshirted during the first year of his contract. For me, Easley’s also a better prospect.
— A reader named Thorson posted this a couple of days ago in relation to Easley’s injury issues. It’s worth a read:
As an orthopedic surgeon, I can perhaps add some insight into Easley’s knee. Typically, when fixing an ACL, we use a graft to replace the torn ligament. Sometimes we use a patient’s own tissue. Often, however, when dealing with an elite athlete, we use cadaver graft. That way we don’t compromise any function a patient might lose by taking a tendon from them. Also, recovery is quicker with banked, cadaver tissue since we don’t have to damage a patient’s leg harvesting the graft. So, assuming the tunnels we use to pass the graft were placed correctly, the hardware we use to fix the graft is easy to remove and probably most important that there is no underlying arthritis or significant damage to the meniscal cartilages, then there isn’t that much difference between recovery after ACL #1 or #2 (or #3 for that matter.) Again, the wild card is the status of the meniscal and joint cartilage. With each subsequent injury, there is more risk to these underlying structures.
This is a somewhat simplified look at things, but if his meniscal cartilages are OK and if he doesn’t have a great deal of arthritis, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose him if available.
I’m still sceptical the Seahawks would draft a player with two serious knee injuries in round one. He may just be one of many options at #64 or he might be off their board completely.
It’s not just the injuries either — they do prefer length on both sides of the line. Easley’s arms a shade under 33 inches (32 7/8 inches to be precise). Even Jordan Hill — drafted in round three last year — had 33 1/2 inch arms.
There’s a counter though. You know whose arms are even shorter than Easley’s?
Aaron Donald — 32 5/8 inches in length.
If you’re telling me the Seahawks wouldn’t draft Donald at #32 because of arm length, I’m here to tell you you’re probably wrong. Sometimes just being an explosive, gritty, determined individual who makes plays is enough to see beyond size.
Ask Russell Wilson.
It’s not often you get a chance to draft such an explosive player at the end of round one. A player who, if healthy, might not get past the likes of Chicago at #14 or Dallas at #16.
If the Seahawks are planning another surprise on draft day — maybe, just maybe, this could be it.
Take a look at the tape below vs Toldeo from 2013. There’s no volume until around the 1:45 mark:
0:20 — If you want to see how he wins against the run despite a lack of great size, this is a good example. He cuts to the left, shoots the gap and then locates the ball carrier. One area he can work on at the next level is finding the man with the ball and completing the play. On this occasion — no problem.
0:28 — Engages the center, gets off the block (shoving him to the ground in the process) and loops around to the right to force the quarterback to pull the ball down and run. The edge rushers were contained for the most part and only came into play once Easley had forced the QB to tuck and run. This is the kind of splash play that doesn’t show up in the stat column.
0:53 — Here he lines up as the nose tackle on 1st and 10 and dominates the center. He wins with leverage and strength. If you pause it at 0:58 — look at the penetration he’s created while still engaged with the center. Rushing from the interior isn’t just about a swim move, speed, shooting the gap and forcing a sack/TFL. A tackle can collapse the pocket by shoving the guard or center into the backfield to impact the play. This is a run and the RB does well to make the most out of the play. Against the pass, this kind of bull rush forces the quarterback to throw quickly or move from his spot.
1:45 — Easley blows this up before the center’s even snapped the ball fully to the quarterback. On fourth and inches they line him up against the center. At 288lbs. That says everything about how highly Florida valued his ability against the run in crucial short-yardage situations.
1:59 — On this play he’s well blocked on a double team. Yet after the QB completes a pass to the RB — look at the effort to race after the ball carrier as he runs downfield. Even if the cornerback wasn’t there to make the tackle, Easley would’ve made the play down the sideline. How many defensive tackles can do this?
2:50 — More dominance of the center, lined up as the nose on 2nd and 2.
4:32 — Another example of a splash play that doesn’t go down in the stat column. Easley explodes off the snap and shoots the gap between the center and right guard. The quarterback has no time to react and throws an inaccurate pass to thin air in the red zone — forcing a field goal on third down.
4:56 — Back to back plays in this segment of the tape where he bursts into the backfield forcing the quarterback into a quick throw. Watch and enjoy.
5:29 — Easley adjusts his position and lines up between the guard and center. He’s into the backfield before the guard’s even out of his stance — that’s elite get off. With the guard desperately trying to hold him, he drags down the running back with one hand for a TFL. It’s an incredible play.
6:01 — In this play by my watch the quarterback has 1.03 seconds before Easley is in his line of vision. He’s still getting into his drop, so he can’t step into the throw (notice the placement of his back foot). If Easley is blocked well, the quarterback can step up into the pocket and avoid the two closing edge rushers. Instead he’s held in position like a sitting duck. It all starts with the interior rush.
6:25 — Easley forces the guard into the pocket, is clearly held as he tries to disengage and forces the QB (no edge pressure this time) to scramble as he’s going through his progressions. He doesn’t get a sack, but if the left end contains his edge it’s a big win for the defense.
8:09 — I guess if you’re getting your ass kicked, you can just trip him up — right?
There are plays where he’s well covered by a double team. I counted two occasions where he was blocked 1v1 and gave up a decent run as a consequence. I think you can live with that given the number of snaps he faced and the overall impact he had on the game.
Very few players truly deserve to be referred to as ‘living in the backfield’. For Easley, it’s the best way to describe him.
Forget about the draft pick for a second. If I offered you the chance to sign an explosive player coming off an ACL injury on a contract worth $1.2-2.1m per year. Would you be interested?
So much depends on the medical reports on the most recent knee injury. Even then you’re putting faith in his ability to stay healthy. If you take the chance and that faith is rewarded, you could be left with a top-tier interior pass rusher. And those types of players aren’t usually available in the late first round.
*** Update ***
Medical report on Easley turned out well. Rehab has been positive and is making progress to be ready at some point during training camp.
— Bryan Broaddus (@BryanBroaddus) April 30, 2014