Thus far this offseason, I have analyzed tapes of six defensive tackle prospects: Cameron Jordan (Cal), Cameron Heyward (Ohio State), Phil Taylor (Baylor), Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple), Drake Nevis (LSU)and Corey Liuget (Illinois). I’ve also taken a look at Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
As of now, I would rate those six players as follows:
I see Taylor as a potential monster inside. It is worth noting that he is the only player who would remain at defensive tackle (nose tackle) in the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme. The six other prospects are all potential defensive ends.
Today’s feature would also fall into the latter category. I hesitated doing a scouting report on Auburn’s Nick Fairley because 1) everyone seems to know his game pretty well and 2) there seemed to be little chance Fairley will drop to the Cowboys’ No. 9 selection.
After a sub-par showing at the Combine, however, Fairley is perhaps a legitimate option for Dallas in the first round.
Fairley can be a dominant player at times. He’s very explosive off of the football and can create havoc in the backfield. He uses his thick lower body and long arms to ward off offensive linemen. He does a really nice job of getting his hands into linemen, allowing him to fully extend his arms, disengage and make plays. As far as his power/speed combination, Fairley may be the best in this draft class at the defensive tackle position.
A lot is being made of Fairley’s average time in the 10-yard split, but he generally displays outstanding quickness on tape. Although he has the power to anchor at the point-of-attack, Fairley is also sudden enough to get into the backfield in a hurry.
Fairley’s major problem at this point is consistency. He started just two games prior to the 2010 season, and he was only average then. Within individual games, Fairley takes plays off and, at the end of contests, sometimes wears down. I have major questions about his ability to play hard every snap. That might be easier if he’s in a rotation in Dallas, but who wants to pay top-10 money to a rotational player?
Fairley plays big in big games, which is certainly a positive, but he also plays down to low competition. He really seems to only step up when absolutely necessary, leading to questions about his work ethic and love for football.
To me, Fairley is a boom-or-bust pick. He has an incredible skill set, but what will he do when he’s an instant millionaire? I’m not very confident that he’ll continue to work to better his game.
Further, I’m not sure Fairley can thrive in a 3-4 defense. He’d certainly be an upgrade over any of the current defensive ends on the roster, but in my opinion, Fairley is best suited as a three-technique player in a 4-3 scheme.
Fairley still figures to get selected by a team before the Cowboys’ No. 9 overall pick. If he does end up dropping, I don’t think he should be an automatic selection for the ‘Boys. First-round players should have very few concerns (particularly about work ethic) and, more importantly, very high floors, i.e. not much bust potential. That is particularly true in the top 10. I think Fairley has a high chance of underperforming relative to his draft spot.
In my defensive linemen rankings above, I would place Fairley in the first tier, but I actually have him rated just behind Phil Taylor. I realize I am the only person in the United States to do this, but Taylor offers the same upside as Fairley at a position which I consider “more important” than the 3-4 defensive end. Remember, my board is built as if I was a member of the Cowboys’ organization; it isn’t simply generic rankings.
Other Potential Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011