Nick Fairley Declares For the NFL Draft
Though this move was expected for quite sometime, it is now official as Auburn’s stud defensive tackle Nick Fairley has declared for the NFL Draft. While there was little chance of Fairley staying in school, his decision was cemented this past week for two reasons; One QB Andrew Luck, the presumative number one overall pick, decided to stay in school for another year. With Luck off the board everyone moves up, and the number one selection is now wide open. The 2nd reason, for Fairley leaving was Auburn’s win, and more specifically his performance in the National Championship game. Not only does he get to go out a winner, but he was really one of the key components to the Tigers victory. Because of a dominating game like that there is nothing he could do that would make his stock rise any higher. After the game, I would say there is a very real shot of Fairley being the top player drafted this April, and if not I can’t see him getting out of the top 3.
While Fairley is widely seen as the top defensive tackle in this draft he is not without his critics. People will point out his lack of experience, as he was at a junior college before 2009, or his inconsistencies, but they fail to see his entire body of work. Fairley was simply unblockable this season in the SEC, which has its fair share of NFL talent. In the National Championship game he showed his ability to diagnose plays, against one of the most complicated offenses in the NCAA. And while people will be quick to point out the scenes of him sucking air and having his hands on his hips, they fail to show where he was ‘too tired’ to impact the game. There isn’t a defensive tackle at any level that wouldn’t be tired trying to keep up with the Oregon offense, just because the camera focused on him has no bearing to his overall play.
As for the concerns about his ‘inconsistent’ play, for me it is just a matter of putting too high powered of a microscope on Fairley’s play. I think if you look at it any player will have plays where the miss assignments or make the wrong read. The problem for Fairley is his mistakes stood out more because he didn’t have the defensive talent around him to compensate. But that is also what made his big plays even more impressive. Fairley wasn’t on some stacked defense that will be graduating 5+ players to the NFL, meaning other teams couldn’t key on him. Fairley did it on his own, and when he couldn’t the extra attention he received usually allowed someone else to make a big play. I understand that people have concern about Fairley’s overaggressive style of play can lead to him being ‘schemed’ out of the play and left out of position. I personally don’t have a problem with that for a couple of reasons. One, if team’s are ‘scheming’ their offense around you, they are drastically shrinking their play book, meaning you can anticipate their next move. Secondly, that overaggressive play may from time to time get you in trouble, but more often than not it will lead to either a big play, or at the very least disrupting the original play. Either way that is a win for Fairley and a win for the defense.
Fairley is very similar to last year’s second overall pick Ndamukong Suh, as a penetrating tackle with a penchant for shooting the gap and getting into the backfield. He has the ability to dominate at the next level, and be an All-Pro tackle from day one. While he profiles best as a 4-3 defensive tackle, he could also fit as a 3-4 end in the right system. Fairley needs to be used in a system that allows him to play to his strengths (getting into the backfield) and gives him a little freedom (and that goes for 4-3 systems as well). While he has a similar skill set to Suh, he is still a bit more raw, but I expect him to still reach his lofty potential.
The only worry with Fairley is if he can stay focused on his abilities, and not let his quick success go to his head. Fairley has been known to play a little on the dirty side, but he won’t be able to get away with that in the NFL. He needs to stay focused and harness his abilities, and if he does that Fairley will reach his potential. If the Carolina Panthers believe they can help nurture, then Nick Fairley is the man for them at the top of the NFL Draft this season.