After taking a month to review the 2013 NFL Draft, it is already time to look ahead to the 2014 class. In fairness, I will do my best to focus on senior prospects for the next few months and move to juniors/redshirt sophomores when the time is right. I am only taking pre-season evaluation notes for now, focusing on where prospects win and where improvements can be made. Therefore, treat these posts like rough drafts and not final opinions.
Preseason Notes Archives on Quarterbacks
Notes on Arizona State DT Will Sutton
Notes on UCLA OLB Anthony Barr
Notes on UNC DE Kareem Martin
One of the more prominent buzz words during the draft process is “projection,” referring to a prospect whose skills must predicted in a different role he is accustomed to and/or factoring in the effects of pro caliber coaching. Some level of projection is needed with every evaluation, since a change in scenery, teammates, scheme, etc. can all make a difference.
Florida has a tendency to use bigger bodied defensive linemen at one end spot, first with Sharrif Floyd in 2011 and then Dominique Easley in 2012. Neither was a natural fit at that spot, and it was noticeable when each flashed potential when allowed to move inside. Like Floyd, Easley is expected to make a home inside during his final season in Gainesville and the outcome could be the same in the form of a first-round pick.
Easley’s evaluation can be split in half. Since he predominantly played on the edge, either as a five or seven technique, we should start there. Obviously the 6’2/287 pounder is not a speed rusher. However, Easley does attempt to work around the edge rather than extending his arms and driving the offensive tackle straight back. He flashes an outside-to-inside move, which proved to be highly effective, but Easley did not produce enough as a pass rusher on the outside.
The closing burst or edge speed is not there for Easley as the five or seven technique. The Gator senior struggled to disengage once his opposition obtained a latch, which can be a downfall of a power rusher. Perhaps the issue that Easley is not a power rusher at heart, but was mislabeled as one last season. He does display some nice flexibility for a big man, however.
Easley goes through a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde transformation when moved inside at the three technique one technique shaded next to the center. His quickness is much more prevalent from this alignment, generating instant disruption after splitting the gap directly in front of him. Easley does not rely on timing the snap and uses his hands to keep separation much better from these interior alignments.
Although closing speed was an issue on the edge, Easley makes the most of his positioning advantage thanks to solid work in tight spaces. He seemed to focus too much on his individual matchup as a defensive end, but Easley’s ultimate goal changes when lining up between the tackles: get to the quarterback. He shows determination when running through second chance blocks and displays impressive bend to work under outstretched arms while sustaining balance.
NFL teams who incorporate stunts and twists will also be pleased with Easley. As an edge defender he shows patience and a closing burst to impact the pocket once the quarterback is forced to step up in the back. Inside Easley can take a hard slant or stunt at the guard or center, which occupies two blockers and allows the adjacent defensive lineman to loop over.
Easley’s hand use is much stronger from these interior spots, showing the ability to shed and use that space to his advantage. His length looks adequate at best, and even though guards are considered stronger, Easley has better success when driving them straight back compared to tackles. If I had to place the blame on something, it would be the length disadvantage.
Easley is kind of in “no man’s land” weight wise, but it doesn’t show with his anchor. He keeps his outside shoulder free while strafing laterally to hold the edge. Inside, Easley will disrupt if gaining the momentum advantage, holding his ground one yard in the backfield. Even if he immediately loses, Easley doesn’t crumble or get driven back multiple yards.
Where He Wins
Easley’s success inside compared to when on the edge is a no contest. His quickness to shoot face up gaps causes instant disruption, displaying quick hands to keep separation and a forward momentum. He impacts games when gaining promising positioning.
Areas of Improvement
He could finish more effectively once in the backfield. Easley is not the most explosive athlete laterally, so when ball carriers or quarterbacks move quickly to one side Easley struggles to change his momentum at a moment’s notice. I do think he will only grow with experience as an interior rusher.