With the 13th pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions picked Nick Fairley from Auburn. His measurables are impressive, 6-foot-2⅞ (apparently an 1/8th of an inch matters), 291 lbs, and can run 40 yards in 4.84 second. A big, fast, strong hulk of a man, he dominated the SEC conference last year from his defensive tackle position with ten sacks. Draft experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both liked him, and they agree with each other about as much as Donald Trump and President Obama agree.
The physical tools and past performances are quite impressive, but they don’t tell us everything. Sure, he is strong, but is he strong enough to handle the expectations? The Lions drafted him at 13, and while the coaching staff probably isn’t expecting him to perform as well as Suh did last year, the fans sure will be expecting it. The talk from the draft pundits in the days after the draft was regarding the Lions possibly having the best defensive front in the league (seriously, did I just write that?!?). That is a lot of pressure for a 23 year old man, especially when his teammate met and exceeded similar expectations the year before.
Is he fast enough to run away from the dangers lurking for a 23 year old who will soon be a multi-millionaire? One of Peyton Manning’s first purchases with his rookie signing bonus was a video replay machine, because his competitive nature drove him to be a better player. Will Nick Fairley show the same drive and dedication? My mind boggles at what I would have done at that point in my life if someone had handed me that kind of cash (it probably would have ended up with me having my hair on fire), and I was a fairly responsible adult. Can someone who has the reputation of being slightly immature handle it?
Is he tough enough to handle the losing? The last time that Nick Fairley lost a football game was Nov 27, 2009. While we all have a lot of anticipation for the upcoming season, I don’t think that anyone is expecting a 16-0 season. We have constantly heard how the culture of losing infects those who come to the Lions. While I all hope that we have started to turn that around (having talent helps) there will be rough spots. Will it cause him to work harder, or will it demoralize him (see Barry Sanders)?
Given all the unknowns, I still think it is a great pick, because you could pretty much ask all the same questions above about any first round draft pick. I have a hunch that with Suh on his left, and KVB (with his red eyes) on the right, and with Corey Williams pushing him for playing time, there will be a level of maturity and dedication that maybe hasn’t been there in the past. And with their level of drive and his physical talents he could become a pretty good ball player.
Now, if only we could find a way for him to play cornerback too.