The draft board fell out perfectly. As someone mocked (*cough* click here *cough*), the Patriots could use a dominant interior lineman on defense to help push the pocket and generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Every position the Patriots didn't really care about- offensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver- started to disappear, while the players the Patriots truly wanted were still on the draft board.
So when the Panthers passed in their card (Florida State's wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin), there were only a few names still linked to the Patriots:
1) QB Teddy Bridgewater - no way were the Patriots going to pick him, but it was enticing to offer Bridgewater as trade bait. Unfortunately, there were no fish biting and the Patriots weren't going to move the pick.
2) TE Jace Amaro - I know a lot of you aren't the biggest fans of him, but he's a quality talent and would be an immediate asset on offense. However, with Ebron as the only tight end off the board, it seems likely that there will still be players available in the second round.
3) DT Ra'Shede Hageman - The coaches weren't the biggest fans and while Hageman may have some of the highest upsides in the draft, he was generally inconsistent and too much of a project for the team's liking. Additionally, his fit in a 4-3 front was questioned.
4) WR Marqise Lee - I would have absolutely been fine with this pick, but the draft is so rich in receivers, this would have been a luxury- a luxury with nigh equal talent later on in the draft.
5) DT Dominique Easley - The Perfect Fit.
So let's start this off: Easley doesn't have the best of knees. That's a definite cause for concern. He says that he's only at 80% of his full potential as he recovers from his surgery this past season, but that he'll be ready in time for camp.
He's smaller, standing at 6'1 3/4 (almost 6'2, if you care), and weighing 290 lbs. He's the exact same size as All Pro talent Geno Atkins of the Bengals.
Here's why Easley is a tremendous selection:
1) The coaching staff and the team doctors ran him through the gamut of tests and felt comfortable selecting him. I trust that decision. If they think he's cleared from injuries, then they should feel comfortable evaluating him as a prospect. The Seahawks were also willing to take Easley at 32, if the Patriots hadn't (per NEPD's Mike Loyko).
2) As a healthy prospect, Easley was a top 5 talent. Not top 5 at his position, but top 5 overall. He was Aaron Donald with a more dangerous first step. He was a menace and he started off the season on a strong note. If he can regain that form, the Patriots just picked up not just a blue chip player, but someone who could be the top player in the league at their position.
3) The Patriots haven't had sustainable interior pressure in the longest time. Possible ever in the Bill Belichick era, if you want to count pressure from the 3-4 as non-interior. The way that Belichick has crafted his 4-3 defensive line features a hybrid of single- and double-gap roles. There's a nose tackle (Vince Wilfork, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano) that's responsible for manning two gaps, while the defensive tackle (Tommy Kelly, Chris Jones, Armond Armstead) gets to face single coverage and attack the backfield. Easley and Wilfork (or Siliga) combine to fill the exact roles.
4) The Patriots weren't going to be trading down anyways. The draft is so deep that teams weren't willing to move up. The Patriots had to make a pick and the general consensus is that Easley was the top player on the team's board. With the Seahawks wanting to take Easley, the Patriots couldn't afford to move down and still get their guy (which is why the Seahawks decided to trade down).
5) Easley fills the Patriots biggest need at defensive tackle better than any other prospect in the draft, bar Aaron Donald (maybe). Hageman, Stephon Tuitt, and Louis Nix III are better off in the 3-4 front, while Timmy Jernigan isn't a consistent player. So Easley can help provide blue chip ability for the next four or five seasons.
The Patriots aren't done in this draft and their three biggest needs (defensive end, interior offensive line, tight end) still need to be addressed. However, these are all positions that have the strength of their depth still to come.
Easley offers the Patriots something they've been looking for and he can be the reason why the team wins when it matters.