New England Patriots: Draft Day 1 Reaction, Grade

Wasn’t that fun?

Jonny Manziel drank a couple gallons of water in the green room before being taken by Cleveland. The Texans took Jadeveon Clowney, and might end up taking Derek Carr, which would be the most hilarious fraternal plotline in NFL history (while also making them a serious AFC contender). The Rams continued to make that RGIII trade look like the joke it was, taking two dominant players. The Eagles reached for one of my favorite late 2nd/early 3rd players.

And the Patriots actually made a pick. Didn’t trade up or down. Didn’t do anything crazy. Just sat back and made a pick.

Dominique Easley, welcome to New England.

Here’s my immediate reaction:

 

What you need to know:

–       Dominique Easley’s been in my last two Patriots mocks. Why? Because he’s one of the most explosive defensive linemen in this draft, with tremendous burst off the line. He beats blockers with ease, and gets into the backfield in quick time.

–       He’s versatile. Easley saw time at 4-3 DT, 3-4 DE, nose, and even some time at 4-3 DE. He can do a lot of things, and therefore can be used in a lot of different defensive looks (more on that later). Huge motor, and a team captain to boot. He’s not as big as the typical Pats’ d-lineman (6’1/288), but he makes up for it with power and speed.

–       He has Top 15 talent…but he’s a huge injury risk. Easley tore his left ACL in 2011, making a nice recovery, but then tore his right ACL in 2013. Easley eased a lot of worries with a great Pro Day showing, and he’s even gone as far to say that he’s more explosive now than he was before his injury, but the worry will always be there.

 

How he fits with the New England Patriots

In short: really, really well. Again, Easley isn’t the prototypical DT for the Patriots, but he brings a new dimension to the pass-rush game that went missing for most of last season. Putting him next to Wilfork will allow him easier access to the QB, and it also take a lot of attention away from Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.

Easley is also a talented run defender, showing the strength to take on double teams and anchor against the run, while also using his quickness to knock back the offensive lineman and locate the running back.

Because of his positional versatility, look for Belichick to use Easley in a couple of different spots, but his long term position is still 4-3 DT. A Wilfork/Kelly/Easley/Siliga/Jones and maybe even Armstead rotation is nothing to sneer at, and we’ve seen that having a defensive line rotation is a key for a lot of the best NFL teams.

 

Grade: A-

It’s not an A because the injury risks, while seemingly fine now, will always be there. Plus, I’m not entirely convinced that, if the Patriots had traded back, Easley wouldn’t have still been there. Though if we saw the returns for Seattle’s trade back with Minnesota (move back 9 spots and pick up an extra 4th-rounder), it may not have been worth it.

Still, great pick by the Patriots, and, if healthy, he’s the steal of this draft. He’s put in a great situation, surrounded by veteran talent, and one of the craftiest coaches in the league.

 

What to look for tomorrow:

By not trading back, and taking a defensive lineman first, Round 2 may be where the Patriots go for either an interior offensive lineman or a tight end. The hope is that at 93, the Pats could go for a 4th linebacker or maybe even a running back, as once you get to Day 3, things get dicey.

Some tight ends to watch: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech; Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington; Troy Niklas, Notre Dame

And interior offensive lineman: Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA (if he somehow makes it to 62, he’s a sure thing in New England); Weston Richburg, Colorado State; Marcus Martin, USC.

 

Also…while we’re here

Some rumors started popping up today that the Texans had revived their interest in Pats’ backup Ryan Mallett. Mallett fits the “huge, cannon arm” mold that Bill O’Brien loves, and, as the former OC, is someone the Texans coach knows well and can trust.

By taking Clowney, and seeing Manziel, Bortles, and Bridgewater come off the board, it may come down to Derek Carr or trading for Mallett. Reports have been nebulous about what New England would get in return (some say a 3rd round pick, but I’m skeptical about that. More likely a 4th), but that will be something to monitor in the next 24 hours.

 

 

See you tomorrow everyone! You can follow me on twitter @isportspeters or send me stuff at isportspeters@gmail.com

 

 

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