In the 2013 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers took flyer picks -- essentially "redshirt" picks on Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. Both players possessed first-round talent, but because of the injuries that ended their final collegiate seasons, Carradine was available in the second round and Lattimore in the fourth. Neither player played a down for the 49ers in 2013, but them's the breaks when you take risks on talent with serious injury concerns.
In the 2014 draft, most if not all NFL teams will look at Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley and wonder if Easley's injury history is worth a similar flyer. Easley tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee last September, which was the second non-contact knee injury he suffered during his collegiate career -- he tore his left ACL in 2011. Still, he managed to collect 72 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks over four total seasons. The strength and explosiveness he shows on tape when healthy would warrant a top-five pick if those knee issues weren't out there.
At his pro day on April 17, Easley said that his right knee was 80-85 percent healed, and he hoped to be ready to go full-speed by the summer.
"I felt real good out there," he said at the event. "I wanted to show them that I can move, that I still have the quickness, I still have my get-off and my tenacity in everything that I do."
According to Bryan Broaddus of the Cowboys' official website, the news is even better now for Easley, though the timeline might be a bit later than he originally imagined.
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
And if that's the case, it's entirely possible that Easley's final landing spot in the draft could be the bottom of the first round. The 49ers, who pick 30th overall, and the Seahawks, who pick 32nd, have shown that they'll take players who don't have a high probability of playing in their first seasons. Seattle took running back Christine Michael in the second round last year despite Marshawn Lynch's status as the heart of the team's offense, and they took a fifth-round flyer on Alabama defensive lineman Jesse Williams despite some reports that Williams has serious degenerative knee issues.
Both teams could benefit greatly from Easley's talents, through it's hard to imagine an NFL team that wouldn't. At 6-foot-2, 288, Easley has an unreal burst off the snap, and the pure strength to dominate single-team blocks and blow up double-teams -- which he saw more often than not. In his SI 64 scouting report, I posited that Easley would rival Jadeveon Clowney for draft buzz among defensive players had he played totally healthy, and if he can show clear medicals for potential NFL suitors, he's worth the risk. Put simply, Easley is too good to avoid at that point.