Fairley's draft rep takes hit

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:48 PM ET

TORONTO - It has been a little more than seven weeks since the NFL Combine began the run-up to next week’s NFL draft.

At that time, Auburn defensive end Nick Fairley was considered among the most coveted players in the draft.

Now, less than a week out, Fairley’s stock has presumably dropped so far that he may not even be among the first 10 players drafted.

Fairley was a beast this past season for Auburn, winning the Lombardi trophy as the best college lineman or linebacker. He finished on a high note, grabbing defensive player-of-the-game honours in the Tigers’ BCS title game against Oregon.

In Indianapolis at the Combine he was all smiles and happy-to-be-here.

Since then, though, the majority of the news on Fairley has been of the negative variety.

He’s only had one outstanding year in college. There are times he doesn’t give a consistent effort. Lately it’s irresponsibility concerns. There was even a leak that he may have missed his flight to the NFL Combine and then blew off a meeting with a team.

Again none of that has been corroborated.

Apparently 88 tackles, 27 1/2 for a loss and 13 sacks can get you to the top of the heap but as soon as people start whispering about the negatives, the power of those stats starts to dwindle.

Again, this may just be the perception from the outside looking in. The final say comes on draft day when Fairley will either be rewarded for his abilities with a high pick and the money that brings with it or he’ll fall down into the second tier of the draft and his bank account balance won’t take the astronomical jump it might otherwise have.

Bills GM Buddy Nix didn’t totally discount all the negatives when Fairley’s name came up at the pre-draft luncheon earlier this week. But he certainly downplayed most of them.

“It’s amazing how many one-year wonders there are in this draft,” Nix began when asked about Fairley’s lack of experience. “When you really go looking hard at them there’s more than just Nick Fairley. But Nick Fairley, for an interior guy is probably the best pass rusher in the past few years. Whether he’s going to be what you want against the run, play scheme and that kind of the thing is another thing. But you’d like for him to play three or four years at a major school. He didn’t and there are some more in that same category.”

So maybe he’s not a fit for Buffalo where they would prefer a run stopper. But as for taking plays off, Nix seemed to think that was overblown, adding he did have another real concern.

“We know guys that watched him grow up, guys that recruited him, the whole deal, I watched him practise,” Nix said. “You don’t see the lack of work habits, you don’t see all of that they talk about. Obviously he got tired in some games. They say he disappeared but my gosh he’s a playmaker. I think one of the big questions that we have to answer and one of the things that is probably a question with him is what will he do when he gets a lot of money. We don’t know that about any of them.”

Fairley doesn’t shy away from questions about his shortcomings.

“Basically how I address it is everybody is entitled to their opinion,” Fairley said at the combine. “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.”

Bills VP of college scouting Tom Modrak said an injury may have led to some of that “taking plays off” rep that has followed Fairley.

Fairley admitted he hurt his shoulder in the Georgia game, (Auburn’s second last regular season game) and basically played with it after that.

“That may well be one of those things that was started and sort of snowballed,” Modrak said. “He played a couple of games with a bad shoulder where his shoulder was hanging and he wouldn’t come out of the game. But our determination was when he needed to, he also had a second and third gear to take it over.”

Unfortunately for Fairley, that kind of talk has been the exception lately.

More often than not it’s been about what he can’t do. As Nix points out, “You guys (media) influence it a lot more than you think.”

The question becomes, are the guys assembling the draft boards buying any of it?


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