FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots selected Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley with the No. 29 overall pick in the NFL draft.
A 6-foot-2, 288-pound lineman who could play on the inside or outside, Easley was said to have the talent for a top 10 pick before a pair of ACL operations dropped his projections to the second or third day of the draft.
With only a low pick in Thursday’s first round, the biggest excitement for Patriots fans at Gillette Stadium might have been Tom Brady’s surprise appearance at the teams’ draft party. But Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was already happy to have Easley aboard.
“I’m lovin this pick !!” Wilfork wrote on Twitter.
The Patriots stocked up on free agent cornerbacks this offseason, leaving them looking for a pass rusher in the draft. Chandler Jones led the team with 11 1-2 sacks last season, but only two teammates had more than three.
New England signed defensive end Will Smith, a 10-year veteran with the New Orleans Saints, but he’ll be 33 in July and he missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Easley gives them another pass-rush threat, but one who also has had injury problems.
He played in 12 games as a sophomore before tearing his left ACL in the regular-season finale against Florida State and missing the Gator Bowl. He started in 11 games as a junior, missing two games with a sprained meniscus. He lasted only three games his senior year before tearing his right ACL in practice.
It was the Patriots’ first draft since the arrest of tight end Aaron Hernandez on murder charges, after which the team vowed to take a look at the way it evaluates potential draft picks. But the team was willing to overlook an altercation between Easley and a former Alabama football player. Although police recommended Easley be charged with a misdemeanor, the State’s Attorney’s office declined to press charges.