Before its disastrous 2013 season, Florida was a dark horse darling to win the Southeastern Conference with as many as four potential prospects on defense having the talent to garner attention in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Nine months later, Florida could wind up with just one player selected before Day 3 of the NFL Draft this week.
Although injuries, inconsistencies and off-the-field concerns saw the draft stock plummet for cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, defensive tackle Dominique Easley is slowly ascending back up teams’ draft boards.
The dominant and disruptive three-technique tackle — once tabbed as the nation’s ninth-best overall prospect according to ESPN draft guru Todd McShay — sustained a second collegiate noncontact knee injury late last September, prematurely ending his Gators career.
Durability issues caused the preseason All-American’s draft stock to crash, but Easley is a mercurial talent charged with a relentless motor and explosive burst, and now, following another lengthy recovery, he is one of the few prospects who has taken advantage of the two-week delay in this year’s draft.
“I don’t expect sympathy from anybody,” Easley said. “Life isn't about sympathy. You got to get through what you got to get through. Ain’t no time to be crying about something.
“You’ve got mouths to feed. That’s how I look at life. I’ve got a mouth to feed. If I cry, [my son] is going to cry for not having food. I can’t let that happen.”
Easley, who recently completed a whirlwind seven-day interview tour with teams across the league, acknowledged the challenging mental hurdle of a second serious knee injury, but motivated by his 18-month-old son, Dominique Easley Jr., he quickly decided he didn’t have time to feel sorry for himself.
The former All-SEC star worked three times a day with trainer Tony Villani in Boca Raton, and also worked out with Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey as part of his rehabilitation.
Easley impressed two dozen league representatives at a private Pro Day in April, showcasing his quickness, power and competitive fire.
Although Easley cooled some of the concerns over his health, he has zero interest in playing the what-if game.
“I’m worried about what I’m going to do when I get to the team I’ll be at,” he said regarding the countless mock drafts that are out there.
“I don’t really pay any attention to [the projections]. Everybody knows how I play. Everybody’s seen my passion for the game, my love for it. That stuff don’t matter to me. … I like to work past expectations. I don’t like being down. That’s just who I am as a person.”
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr., who lauded Easley’s highlight tape, pegged the tenacious tackle as a first rounder before the prospect’s second ACL injury, but now Kiper sees him as a third- or fourth-round selection.
However, Easley’s former coach believes teams would be foolish to wait so long on such potential.
“You want him in your locker room,” UF coach Will Muschamp said emphatically.
“He's a really good player, but I think his competitive edge is a huge talent. It’s probably his No. 1 talent. A bunch of the coaches and scouts came to me afterward [at the Pro Day] and said, ‘We understand what you’re talking about.’ We got out there and we put him through a tough workout. … It was good for them to see that, because when it gets tough, that’s when he’s at his best.”
But Purifoy and Roberson continue to slide in the opposite direction.
Purifoy, once considered a surefire first-round talent, flopped during the evaluation process and continues to raise red flags with character concerns.
Touted as a workout wonder, the 5-11, 189-pound cornerback bombed at the NFL Combine, running a poor 4.61-second 40-yard dash and managing just six repetitions on the bench press — fewest amongst all defensive backs.
Purifoy, who served a two-game suspension in 2013 for a violation of undisclosed team rules, continued to cost himself money with an alleged mid-March arrest in Gainesville.
Roberson also clocked a substandard 4.61 seconds in the 40, and, coupled with a lackluster, injury-riddled junior campaign, also is no longer considered a top prospect.
“Roberson and Purifoy looked like first rounders at one point,” Kiper Jr. said.
“Then they ran those slow 40s and didn’t test well.”