The NFL draft is this week, and the Stratford native will soon have his first full-time job. A number of pro football teams are interested in Easley’s services based on his size (6-foot-2), speed (4.46 40-yard dash) and production last season at UConn. Easley caught 48 passes for 893 yards and eight touchdowns, all of which were accomplished in the Huskies’ final 10 games.
The fact that Easley’s college career began as a walk-on and featured mostly special teams play only for the first three years is intriguing, though, despite the frequent inquiries, isn’t necessarily a knock against him.
“What happened at UConn happened. I can’t really change the past. I’m looking toward the future,” Easley said. “Once the ball was thrown to me, I just tried to make the most of it.”
Easley certainly did that, and now he’s trying to make the most of his NFL shot.
The first round of this year’s draft will be Thursday night. Rounds two and three will take place Friday, and the remainder of the picks will be made Saturday.
Easley has worked out for the Browns, Bengals, Jets, Ravens and Eagles, and also met with the Panthers and Bears at the NFL combine. His stock is rising and he has a good chance to be drafted in the third round. He’s unlikely to last through the fourth.
“I don’t really have many expectations,” Easley said. “A lot of them say mid-to-late but so much can change on the actual days. I’m just going to stay tuned in like everybody else. Whenever my phone rings and my name appears across the screen, I’ll be grateful.”
UConn has a number of players who have a chance to be drafted this week, including defensive end Lindsey Witten, running back Andre Dixon, cornerback Robert McClain and tackle Mike Hicks. Easley, however, is likely the top draw.
“He’s a former walk-on, right?” says Todd McShay, the director of college scouting for ESPN Scouts Inc. “How does that happen?”
Like everyone else, McShay tends to focus on Easley’s past. He realizes Easley has a bright future, though.
“He’s big and fast and can move,” McShay said. “Obviously, he’s still developing, still learning the game, and I think his best football is still in front of him.”
McShay believes Easley is not among the top groups of wide receivers but still has plenty of potential.
“There’s probably a third tier,” McShay said. “You talk about the first-rounders. Then you get into guys like Arrelious Benn (Illinois), Golden Tate (Notre Dame), (Eric) Decker (Minnesota) and Damion Williams (USC). Then there’s a third tier of receivers that are mixed up of smaller, quicker guys like David Reed (Utah) and Andre Roberts (Citadel) and Jordan Shipley (Texas). Then also some bigger guys like Dezmon Briscoe from Kansas and Seyi Ajirotutu from Fresno State. I would throw Carlton Mitchell from South Florida and also Easley in that group.
“Right now, I have a fourth-round grade on him,” McShay continued. “I could see him maybe coming off the board maybe a little bit earlier just on his up side.”
Easley has plenty of respect for all of the players McShay mentioned. Heck, he’s watched them play almost as much as McShay has. But Easley believes he can more than keep up with anyone in the draft.
“A lot of those guys, they got a little more notoriety than I did,” Easley said. “When it’s all said and done, during the drills and running routes with them, I’m just as capable and I have just as much ability as they do. I’m here to compete and I’m trying to win a job just like they are.”
Easley’s agent, Ed Wasielewski of EMG Sports Management, says his client’s long journey to get to this point will help him come draft day.
“He’s going to go to a team that needs a wide receiver to block and do the dirty work,” Wasielewski said. “Teams are impressed with the complete package that Marcus brings to the table.”
Easley says he’s taken pointers from all of the coaches and scouts he’s dealt with over the last few months. He knows he has to work some on his hip flexibility and perhaps could carry more speed in and out of the breaks in his pass routes. But most have been thrilled with his blocking ability.
“As a wide receiver, you want to run, catch and block,” Easley said. “I’m just trying to be a complete player, the total package. My blocking ability should help me get on the field, not just on offense but on special teams as well.”
If Easley succeeds at the next level — it’s most likely a “when” in his mind — UConn coach Randy Edsall might become the next Dean Smith. The old joke was, “Who is the only man to hold Michael Jordan under 20 points a game?” Maybe soon it will be, “Who is the only man to hold Marcus Easley under 100 yards a game?”
For his part, Edsall is simply glad Easley has blossomed. The fact is that Edsall’s Huskies finally began to throw the ball with regularity around the same time Easley began to catch it.
“After the Pittsburgh game, when he beat that guy and took off, I think Marcus gained more confidence in himself,” Edsall said. “And we said, `Hey, we’ve got a guy here that can really make some things happen.’ And then the ball started going his way a little bit more, he made big plays, a couple of one-handed catches, and then you have a guy out there who can block and can play on special teams.”
Just because Easley wasn’t a superstar as an underclassman doesn’t mean he can’t be a star in the NFL, Edsall insists.
“He’s elevated himself tremendously. He’s one of those stories. Not everybody’s going to be a three- or four-year player or even a two-year player. There might be some guys that are going to play for one year,” Edsall said. “Lindsey (Witten) was basically a pass rush specialist until his senior year because there were some guys in front of him. Marcus was contributing elsewhere but never came into his own until his senior year. I don’t think there’s anything negative about that. It just happens that way.”