Following the draft, I had the chance to sit down with former Foxboro Blog contributor, Stephen Sheehan. We chatted about Dominique Easley, Jon Halapio, and his thoughts on the Patriots’ draft. Stephen is currently a NFL/NFL Draft writer for Fanrag.com. He is also a graduate student at the University of Florida after graduating from UF with his bachelors degree in journalism in May 2013.
1. You and I both had Dominique Easley as pick #29 on our final mock drafts. What made you think Easley was going to be the pick at 29?
There were a few factors that played into me pegging Easley to the Patriots at 29. He had recently worked out for teams and reports were that he looked healthy, which certainly helped alleviate some concerns about his health. With his health less of a concern, he seemed to be gathering steam as a late-first round possibility. New England had a clear need at defensive tackle and with Belichick’s affinity for Florida players, the combination of talent and value seemed like a logical fit at 29.
2. In a draft where the Patriots dedicated most of their picks for the future, how does Easley fit into the plans for this current 2014 team?
Luckily for both the Patriots and Easley, he’s a first-round pick who doesn’t have to play right away. I liken it to the Nate Solder selection in 2011. Solder played as a jumbo tight end and sixth offensive lineman, contributing but not starting. Easley would be behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, but is far more talented than Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga. Easley should contribute as a subpackage rusher while the team tries to find the best position for him. He can certainly spell Wilfork on obvious passing downs.
3. Can you give me a game in his college career where he stood out the most for the Gators’ defense?
One of the best games I ever saw from Easley was against Miami back in September. The Gators ended up losing 21-18, but it was one of the most dominant performances from not only Easley buta defensive tackle I had ever watched. He routinely shot gaps, jolted offensive linemen back and made plays in the backfield. It was a great example of his snap anticipation, explosion and effort. Just a truly riveting performance against an offensive line that featured two guys that got drafted this weekend.
4. How much concern should fans have about the two ACL surgeries? Was he worth the risk at 29, since some draft experts consider it a reach?
Easley responded well after tearing his ACL in late 2011 against Florida State, so there’s some precedent here. In fact, he was well on his way to the best season of his career before tearing his ACL in practice in a non-contact situation. Ultimately, I think he was well worth the risk at 29 because he’s a top-10 talent. Rotoworld draft analyst Josh Norris had Easley as the No. 4 player on his Big Board, which speaks highly about his overall talent. New England simply is never in a position to take a player with that talent level, so despite the two ACL surgeries, I think he’s a player with such great upside that he’s worth the risk.
5. The Patriots also selected another Gator, guard Jon Halapio in the 6th round? What strengths will he bring to the Patriots both in 2014 and in future years?
Halapio’s strengths are his physicality, toughness and leadership. He’s a mauler who battled through a torn pec and other injuries in 2013, which speaks to his toughness and commitment. Funny fact is he, Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic and Kyle Koehne were all in my first class at UF, so it’s crazy to think that five years later he’s heading to New England. Overall, I think Halapio will challenge for a starting job a year from now once he gets in the system and knows the playbook. Unlike the Gators from the 2010 draft class, both Easley and Halapio are high-character guys with tremendous leadership and toughness.
6. How would you grade the Patriots’ 2014 draft class?
It’s obvious early to assign a grade, but I think the Patriots’ 2014 draft class deserves a solid B. To me, this was the perfect example of Bill Belichick balancing the short-term and long-term aspect of team building. While Easley may be the only guy who contributes this year, all three offensive linemen could be starters by 2016. Jimmy Garoppolo could very well be Brady’s successor, and quite honestly I hope he is, otherwise that pick was too rich to waste on a quarterback who you don’t envision as a future starter. Additionally, James White provides a great insurance policy for next offseason when both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are set to hit free agency. Jemea Thomas, who they took in the sixth round, instantly upgrades the special teams and he can play both corner and safety. I also loved the selection of Jeremy Gallon in the seventh round. We all know Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman have durability concerns, so this guy could eventually become a key contributor in a year or two. Overall, this class was really about the future, and that’s fine with me since the Patriots have such a talented roster already.