Rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley is the final piece to the puzzle that will push the New England Patriots‘ defense out of mediocrity. The Patriots needed a fierce pass rusher and an inside presence, and they have both in the former Florida Gator.
It may be a “passing league,” but the old saying that defense wins championships holds true, as the Seattle Seahawks proved in Super Bowl XLVIII. No one knows this better than the quarterback kings of the 21st century; both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been thwarted on the biggest stage by effective pass rushes and aggressive secondaries.
Over the offseason, the Patriots have built one of the best cornerback groups in the entire league, highlighted by the acquisitions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. But at the start of May, the Pats still lacked the other key ingredient of the modern championship defense — a potent pass rush.
Right before the draft, the Patriots signed longtime New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith in a move that could pay dividends if Smith, 32, still has something left in the tank. But even after acquiring him, Bill Belichick needed one last cog in his front seven, so he took the immensely talented Easley late in the first round.
Now that they have Easley, the Patriots boast a defense reminiscent of the 2013 Seahawks — a strong front seven backed by an excellent secondary. In addition to the influx of new players, returners such as Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones are entering their primes. Players like Revis, Browner and McCourty will benefit from a stronger pass rush provided by Easley.
The Florida product can be effective in any defensive scheme. In a 3-4 defense, Easley can line up on the edge, thriving off of the attention offensive lines will pay to Jones. And if the Pats stick him on the inside next to Vince Wilfork in a 4-3 scheme, the pair will suffocate runs up the middle. If offenses allocate more resources to slow down Easley, then Jones, Collins and Rob Ninkovich will take advantage.
Yes, Easley’s injury history is concerning. But it is widely believed that the Seahawks were going to take Easley if he had dropped to them a few picks later, and since Seattle is modeling the prototypical NFL defense, it’s comforting to know that they were big fans of Easley as well, even with the multiple ACL injuries.
The Patriots have been searching for a player like Easley ever since Richard Seymour lost his magic. Finally, the Pats have found the key for the ignition, and the defense can help Brady win that slippery fourth ring.