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2011 NFL Draft: Are Nick Fairley's Character Concerns Overblown or Understated?

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2011 NFL Draft: Are Nick Fairley's Character Concerns Overblown or Understated?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Auburn DT Nick Fairley has a reputation for driving QBs into the ground. He better forget about trying that in the NFL.

The Nick Fairley hype train sounds like it's lost some steam over the last few weeks.

Fairley, the sports media’s No. 1 guy back in early February, had a lot of momentum going into the NFL Combine. And even though he performed at a high level in the drills and workouts, it's the other part, the 15 minute individual team interviews, that reportedly didn’t go all that great.

When he was on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, the 6’3’’, 291 pound DT impressed onlookers with a 4.87 40-yard dash and a 9’5’’ broad jump. But Fairley, who had some work ethic and character concerns from his time at Auburn, didn’t fare as well in meetings with personnel executives from various franchises.

My favorite quote thus far has been from NFLDraftscout.com, with a tip from one inside source who described Fairley as a “Juco kid to the core.”

So it seems Fairley isn’t actually the perfect prospect some may have made him out to be and maybe it’s time for a few of those analysts to reassess their glowing endorsement of the big lineman.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we all watched the games last year. We know the young man can play and play at a high level. When Fairley was at his best, which was quite often, he was was a disruptive force who caused havoc for opposing offensive lines.

Last season, he performed exactly how an elite prospect should.

But then there’s that wordconcerns.

Every team has them about every prospect, whether it’s a top prospect like LSU CB Patrick Peterson, or an unheralded long shot like Prairie View A&M QB K.J. Black.

All players have some sort of flaw that’s worth closer scrutiny.

For Fairley, it’s his reputation around the SEC as a dirty player.

Fairley accumulated 180 negative yards through sacks and tackles for loss in 2010, but he nearly canceled it all out with personal foul penalties.

After the Georgia game in mid-November is when people really started zeroing in on Fairley and his over-the-line antics. Knee diving, shots after the whistle and fights were becoming all too routine sights during Auburn games.

Fairley supporters would say he just plays the game mean and nasty and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of the best defensive players in the NFL have that same mentality. Steelers LB James Harrison was fined for dirty plays seemingly every other week this past season.

What’s the big deal?

Well, a big part of the transition to the NFL for rookies is how they adapt to their new locker room and how well they can mesh with their new teammates.

How is Fairley’s attitude going to be welcomed by his new team?
 
What if, say one day Fairley throws a low blow or an elbow at a veteran teammate in practice?

That scenario might even be stretching it a bit.

Picture this. What’s going to happen when it’s the fourth quarter, third and nine and the defense comes up with a huge crucial stop, only to realize, woops, Fairley drove Matt Schaub’s head into the ground.

Remember in the NFL these days, if you even so much as breathe on a high profile quarterback not named Mike Vick, it’s considered nearly criminal.

Nick Fairley injures Aaron Murray

Do you think that what Fairley did to Georgia's Aaron Murray is going to fly?

Nope. Fifteen-yard penalty and 10 angry teammates who can’t go get a water break.

Granted, penalties will happen and it may not be all that big of a deal in the long run. But let’s for a second remember that “Juco kid to the core” comment. It’s those types of characterizations that could reveal a lot about Fairley’s makeup and personality.

Coming out of Lillie B. Williamson High School in Mobile, Alabama back in 2007, Nick Fairley committed to come play football at Auburn for then-head coach Tommy Tuberville.

The only problem?

He didn’t have the grades. So off he went for a year at Copiah-Lincoln Junior College in Mississippi.

Now, just because a kid failed to qualify academically coming out of high school, it doesn’t mean he has a lackadaisical work ethic. However, it does raise a red flag signaling that some further investigation is needed.

Ask any NFL coach or simply go watch Hard Knocks one of these days. The preparation that the players do in the classroom studying film is just as important as the work they do out on the practice field. Failing in the classroom won't endear you to NFL scouts.

In the past, we’ve seen a good number of former junior college transfers turn into successful NFL players, but you do sometimes get the sense that the scouts and personnel people devalue those certain guys a bit just because they have that JUCO tag.

It's not exactly something you would want on your resume.

Take the case of Ravens DT Terrence Cody, a junior college player who finished off his career at Alabama. Cody was considered a first-round pick for much of his final season in Tuscaloosa, but the commitment issues, the type often associated with former JUCO players, dropped him all the way down to the 57th pick in last year’s draft.

Do scouts feel that some of those same commitment issues plague Nick Fairley?

There have been rumblings that his work ethic wasn’t all that stellar at Auburn, although no one can really confirm that.

As they say though, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

So how should we ultimately view Nick Fairley?

Is he an elite, Warren Sapp-caliber DT prospect who just happens to get a bad rap?

Or is Fairley another talented, yet lazy one year wonder who will end up getting tripped up by his refusal to buy into the NFL system?

Opinions will differ and only time will tell.

I, for one, believe Fairley will dominate in a Ndamkuong Suh kind of fashion as a rookie and after his terrific showing at the recent Auburn Pro Day, I can’t imagine that he’ll drop past the Cleveland Browns at No. 6.

Still, the concerns about Fairley are valid ones.

The real interesting thing to watch will be his how teammates embrace him. If Fairley gels and assimilates himself properly into the defense, he should excel.

If he doesn’t, then those concerns could come creeping to the surface.

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