Lions 2011 first-round draft pick Nick Fairley
Championships are won in the trenches. Control the line of scrimmage, and you control the game.
Last year the Detroit Lions drafted Nebraska standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with the second pick in the entire draft. This pick was a shock to nobody, as the Lions badly needed an injection of talent to their defensive line.
All Suh did in 2010 was make 66 tackles and register 10 sacks en route to winning both AP and Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year. Oh yeah, and he also went to the Pro Bowl.
When Nick Fairley started sliding down the draft board, Lion fans everywhere looked at each other in nervous anticipation. Could this be really be happening? Is the most dominant defensive lineman in the entire draft really going to fall to 13th? Is the rest of the league going to dare the Lions to select him?
It was widely believe the Lions would attempt to trade down in the draft rather than draft a cornerback other than Patrick Peterson. But could General Manager Martin Mayhew pass up on a chance to draft another one-man wrecking crew in Fairley?
The answer was no—even hell no—because the decision was that much of a no-brainer. The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American was going to be a Detroit Lion.
Let's take a look at why Detroit will have the NFC's best defensive line in 2011.
DT Ndamukong Suh
The Lions missed the inside presence of Shaun Rogers after they traded him to the Browns in exchange for Leigh Bodden and a third-round draft pick in 2008.
Without Rogers, Detroit no longer had a presence on their defensive line which would demand respect and command double-teams from opposing offensive lines. Even worse, Bodden clashed with coach Rod Marinelli and his staff, and the cornerback was released after the season.
The Lions needed immediate help at defensive tackle going into the 2010 draft, and taking Suh with the second overall pick was exactly what the world expected. What the world didn't expect was the rookie to be good enough to make the Pro Bowl and register 10 sacks.
Suh is the cornerstone in which the rest of the defense will be built on over the next decade and is now the face of the Detroit Lions.
DT Nick Fairley
After Nick Fairley was evaluated, measured, timed, poked and prodded at the NFL Combine, there were some skeptics who came out of the woodwork. Believed to be 6'5", 310 pounds, the Auburn standout was only 6'2 7/8", 291 pounds.
What now? He wasn't as big as everyone thought he was!
Then he ran a 4.84 40, ran a 7.14 cone drill and broad jumped 9'5" and maxed out his vertical leap at 31". Fairley didn't register the top score in any of these drills, he merely scored near the top in all of them for defensive tackles.
His 9.6" hand size and 34.59" arm length made up for his height a little bit.
As for people who call him a one-year wonder, the need to know Fairley had some of his best games against the best teams in the country. Against LSU, Alabama and Oregon, he had six of his 13 sacks (including postseason).
His work ethic and motor have been question, but now he shares a cubicle with Suh and will also have to answer to him every day in practice.
Fairley, called by many a top-four talent, was picked up on the cheap by the Lions with the 13th pick in the draft. The Lions are now set at defensive tackle for the rest of the decade.
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz wanted Kyle Vanden Bosch to sign with the Lions badly a year ago. The Tennessee Titans ex-defensive coordinator felt the veteran defensive end had a few quality years left in him and felt Detroit could benefit from Vanden Bosch's professionalism.
Even though he only played the first 11 games, Vanden Bosch racked up 49 tackles and registered four sacks. It was an upgrade in production from what Detroit had seen from the position in a few years.
At 32, Vanden Bosch will be a prime candidate to be played situationaly to maximize his strengths and keep him healthy for he entire year.
If he stays healthy all year, it is a good sign that Fairley and Suh are creating a lot of one-on-one opportunities for him coming off the edge.
DE Cliff Avril
Cliff Avril could be the happiest man in Detroit right now. Coming off his best year (8.5 sacks) and headed into his contract year, Avril knows he'll get a lot of one-on-one opportunities to rush the quarterback.
This should mean increased productivity for him and a multi-year deal worth millions to his bank account.
Avril was taken by the Lions with one of the last picks of the third round in 2008. Scouts predicted the college linebacker was going to make a successful transition to defensive end and be drafted somewhere in the mid-second round. Well, they got one of the predictions right!
Three years into his career, Avril has 19 sacks in 31 games (only 28 were starts), and his sack total has gone up all three years.
The combined strength of play by a front four of Suh, Fairley, Vanden Bosh and Avril will make the Lions defensive line the best in the NFC.