Nick Fairley, DT/DE, Auburn Tigers
40-Time: (NFL Scouting Combine Time Feb. 23 - Mar. 1 to be added)
Fairley has been a very good pass rusher at Auburn and is very talented at shooting up the gap to make the play on the quarterback. He came away with 11.5 sacks in 2010 and recorded 24 tackles for loss, the third highest total in the nation behind Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue and Da'Quan Bowers of Clemson, who each recorded 26 tackles for loss. Fairley uses the swim move quite well to get by blockers. He is a high motor player with very good athleticism for his size to get after the ball carrier. As the season wore on, Fairley put to rest some concerns with his putting forth his full effort on every play.
He's a quick, aggressive player which makes him an effective pass rusher at around 300 pounds, and helps him in run defense as well. He has long arms to grab at ball carriers and is big enough to occupy multiple blockers to allow linebackers in the second level to come up and make the play against the run. He's a great tackler who can light up the ball carrier, although there are concerns as to whether some of his tackles would elicit a penalty in the NFL (more on that later).
Consistency will be a concern that some have about Fairley. As a sophomore in 2009, Fairley recorded just 28 tackles and only 1.5 sacks, yet was one of the premier defensive players the next year. The concern that Fairley did not play at full speed on every down will only fuel concerns about his consistency.
Fairley has the frame to add some weight and muscle, and his NFL team may look to get him in the weight room to do just that. He isn't weak by any means and is a strong player, but adding strength, especially in his legs, could help him take that next step as a pro; it will help him fight off the double teams he's sure to see in the NFL and will help him hold down his lane. One more possible weakness of Fairley's is his reputation for taking dirty, nasty hits. More on that below under 'Other Notes'.
Fairley has been largely criticized for what many consider dirty tactics, i.e. cheap shots, late hits, leading with his helmet. He's been accused by other players, members of the media and fans of other teams, particularly in the SEC (see Georgia game). With new emphasis on penalizing players who lead with their helmet, it's tough to say what, if any, impact this has on Fairley's draft stock. Teams have been wary of players for off-the-field issues in the past, but whether a team feels overly cautious about drafting Fairley high in the first round because of questionable on-the-field behavior is hard to say.
Supporters argue that Fairley does not deliberately try to cause injury or get in cheap shots after the quarterback releases the ball or after the play is over, many arguing that football is a rough sport and such incidents are part of the normal flow of the game. However, there is no place for dirty football at any level and if such behavior is present at the next level, penalties, fines and suspensions will not be uncommon. The cheap shots of which Fairley has been accused have not harmed his draft stock at this point and he's considered a near-lock in the top five, if not the top three.
Fairley's coach at Auburn, Gene Chizik, defended the Lombardi Award winner, calling the idea that Fairley is a dirty player "absurd" according to ESPN.com. "It's real simple. You have a 315-pound defensive tackle and you can't block him, sometimes he's going to be very aggressive and people are going to get hurt," Chizik said. "We don't want that. We don't want to see anybody get hurt. But when you can't block a guy that's 315 pounds, that happens."
Potential NFL Team, Round
Fairley would be a good fit with the Carolina Panthers with the first pick, where new defensively-minded head coach Ron Rivera will reportedly keep the 4-3 defense. Fairley would play the tackle position in the 4-3 defense, but could move to defensive end in a 3-4 if Rivera eventually changes to the 3-4 scheme, which he has coached in the past. Picking second, the Denver Broncos could look to add Fairley if Carolina selects Da'Quan Bowers to play defensive end or if they look to A.J. Green for offensive firepower. Denver may switch back to a 4-3 defense with a new defensive coordinator in town where Fairley would fit as a tackle, but would play end if Denver sticks to the 3-4 scheme. If he's available when the Buffalo Bills pick at #3, they would probably look to lock up Fairley as a 3-4 end. Don't count on Fairley falling past Buffalo with the third pick.
Danny Hobrock, a sports journalist covering NCAA Football and MLB is the editor of our college football content. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. You may email Danny directly @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ DannyHobrock
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