INDIANAPOLIS — If there is a consensus to come out of this Combine, it is that the teams looking for help on their defensive line are going to enjoy the process more than most.
The talent and depth on the D-line in this draft according to just about everyone who took his turn at a podium whether it was a coach, a GM or even one of the participants was unanimous.
And at or near the top of everyone’s list is Nick Fairley, a terror on the field, and a gentle giant off it.
The Auburn defensive tackle endeared himself to a room full of media on the final day of interviews frequently referencing his parents and how much he learned from them, owes them and appreciates them.
That’s all well and good, Fairley, a 6-foot-4, 291-pound behemoth of a defensive tackle didn’t come to the Combine to make nice.
He’s here looking to sell himself to the teams at the top of the draft board. The Carolina Panthers have the first pick followed by Denver and then Buffalo.
Fairley could help any of them. Buffalo could do much worse than bringing in a guy who can stop the run and pass rush from his defensive tackle position.
In his junior year, his only full year at Auburn, he dominated games finishing the year with 11.5 sacks, 21 QB hurries and 21 tackles for a loss. He won the Lombardi Award as the NCAA defensive player of the year and took home MVP honours in Auburn’s BCS Championship game win over Oregon.
If there is a knock on him, it’s that he can takes things a little too far. Some of those late hits and after-the-whistle altercations have earned him a reputation as a bit of a cheap-shot artist.
Fairley had only informal talks with teams as of Sunday — formal interviews were still ahead — but so far no one but the media was bringing that up.
“Well, not yet,” Fairley said. “... Basically how I address it is everybody is entitled to their opinion. I play the game the way it should be played. I hit a light switch when I hit the field and it doesn’t turn off until after I leave.”
The way quarterbacks are protected in the NFL, he may have to reign that in a bit, but it’s a fine line between too much and just the right amount of aggression. Fairley and whatever team drafts him will have to figure that out.
As successful as he was in college, Fairley knows there’s still plenty to learn.
He talked about working on his technique as opposed to just bull-rushing lineman and over powering them. The feeling is he could get away with that at the college level, but in the pros he won’t find offensive lines quite as intimidated.
It might also come from remarks Warren Sapp has made suggesting Fairley doesn’t deserve top billing in the D lineman class because he doesn’t use his hands enough.
Ironically, it is Sapp who Fairley is most often compared to, although he says he patterns his game off former Packers great Reggie White.
Fairley said he can handle the criticism. He has been hearing it from veterans and he knows his game is going to have to change once he gets to the pro level.
“They looked at me all this year in college and were like you’re quick and powerful, but when it comes to the NFL you’ve got to use your technique,” Fairley said. “There are O-linemen that will just lay on you for three quarters and by the fourth quarter you’re not going to come off of the ball, you’ll be worn out by then. I just have to work on getting my technique to a T, where it comes natural and I’ll be ready to go.”
But first someone is going to have to make a commitment to him and it’s a fairly certainty that Fairley won’t be around by the time the draft is six picks old.
He might not be around by the time it’s one pick old.