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Fans, coaches and analysts project a star when they see Nick Fairley as a Detroit Lion. If that's the case, the first-round defensive tackle has a lot of ground to make up, and it has to come next season.
Fairley came into the 2011 Draft as a potential No. 1 overall pick. Factors of a questionable worth ethic, a bad attitude and only one productive season in college caused his draft value to decrease. Also considering a high bust rate for first-round defensive tackles, NFL GMs became scared to death to pull the trigger on Fairley.
Defensive tackle wasn't an area of need when Martin Mayhew drafted Fairley with the 13th pick last offseason. The Lions have a star in Ndamukong Suh, a solid veteran in Corey Williams and a great role player off the bench in Sammie Lee Hill.
With glaring needs in the secondary and offensive line, and players who would've been smarter picks over Fairley (Florida guard Mike Pouncey, Colorado tackle Nate Solder, Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara), Mayhew took a gamble with the selection, and it must start paying off as soon as next season.
Fairley's rookie season got off to a rocky start injuring his left foot before the preseason began. The nagging injury put Fairley on the shelf for the first four regular-season games, and forced him to miss six games total.
Fairley never played to the level he's capable due to the injury and lack of chemistry with his teammates on the defensive line. With a healthy full offseason this year, he will have his chance to make up for that lost time last season.
There were signs of greatness in games such as Week 13 vs. the Saints by Fairley in Ndamukong Suh's absence due to suspension. However, there were boneheaded penalties, struggling against double-teams and a lack of production in games like Week 10 at Chicago. The Lions need the Week 13 Fairley to show up on a consistent basis.
This draft pick will either be hit or miss for the Detroit Lions. Corey Williams isn't going to retire a Lion due to his age and the depth at tackle. The defense is looking for Fairley to form a dominant one-two punch with Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line.
Inconsistency from Fairley, or serving as a role player isn't good enough based on his talent and expectations. The big man needs to show up in 2012-13.