Untapped Potential Means Detroit Lions Must Look Outside Nick Fairley at Defensive Tackle


Jul 26, 2013; Allen Park, MI, USA; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley (98) during training camp at the Detroit Lions training facility. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

From wide receiver to cornerback to linebacker and safety, there are plenty of different ways the Detroit Lions will choose to fill out their roster a month from now during the NFL Draft.

One position the team should be looking to address that many might not consider a need, though, is defensive tackle. In 2011, Nick Fairley was considered a can’t-miss steal when he fell into the Lions’ lap at pick 13. When the Lions quickly paired him with Ndamukong Suh, it seemed like they were on the verge of creating the next great defensive tackle tandem in the league.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men. Flash forward to 2014, and one single comment speaks volumes about Fairley’s past and future in Detroit. As Dave Birkett wrote in the Detroit Free Press, the team still seems less than enthusiastic about ensuring a long-term future with the 26 year-old.

"The Lions already have decided against picking up Fairley’s fifth-year option, but they still insist they’re interested in signing him to a long-term deal—if he starts to show the consistency and work ethic he needs to be great."

If the Lions aren’t sure after three years that they want to pick up Fairley’s fifth year option, they shouldn’t be thinking about any long-term deal at all. The point has finally come where the team must light a fire under Fairley to help him either reach and exceed his potential, or quickly get edged out by a player willing to take the steps necessary to being elite.

Fortunately, defensive tackle should be one of the deeper positions this May. The Lions likely won’t be in play for a defensive lineman like Aaron Donald, Louis Nix or Ra’Shede Hageman early in the draft, but in the middle rounds, there are some values to be found. Selecting Caraun Reid from Princeton in the fourth round would be an interesting move, or going with a later pick like Wisconsin’s Beau Allen, or Purdue’s Bruce Gaston might do the trick.

Fairley hasn’t shown the consistent motor or effort on the field  and off that teams like to see.  After getting in trouble with the law, he did clean up his act in the community, but weight and conditioning has long been a bigger issue. As a result of that, Fairley is capable of making a few big plays, but disappearing over the course of a game and season. If the decision becomes a question about whether to sign Suh long term or Fairley, it’s obvious which way the Lions should go to save money.

This draft, the Lions should find a quality player to gently put a bit of pressure on a defensive tackle with plenty to prove. In three years played, Fairley should have collected more than 12.5 sacks and 61 tackles. Given the advantage he has playing with Suh, he should have been cleaning up for a long time.

2014 is the latest big year for Fairley, but it’s just as big for his team, who must figure out a new way to motivate a player they have many questions about.