2011 NFL Draft: Are the Detroit Lions Building a “Silver Curtain?”

Jared JohnstonContributor IApril 30, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  Nick Fairley, #13 overall pick by the Detriot Lions, holds up a jersey during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Well folks, it’s Saturday and the final few rounds of the draft are just getting under way.  The Detroit Lions continued to add playmakers at impact positions last night, adding Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure.  Both should be featured heavily in an offensive unit now completely loaded with weapons of every shape, size and type.  But still, one thing stands out most to me about this draft so far—Nick Fairely. 

With their first pick in the draft, Detroit made a move that seemed so implausible that very few mock drafts even considered it a possibility. Now that Fairley is a Lion though, imaginations across the NFL are picturing his impact on a Detroit defensive front that was already getting accolades and praise for it’s accomplishments in 2011.

We all know about the success of the Rookie of the Year, Ndamukong Suh, in 2010. However, that success was also a success of Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams, Lawrence Jackson, Turk McBride, and Sammie Lee Hill. Except for a few too many mental errors (encroachments mostly), this unit, as a whole, played better than I think any Detroit D-Line has in 30 years of watching Lions football. They were constantly applying pressure, with just the front four, all season long.  The Lions finished with 44 sacks in 2010 (sixth in the NFL).

Speaking of sacks, the Steelers led the NFL with 48 sacks, and the Packers were tied for second, with 47, as a team.

It’s also noteworthy that the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers last loss came to a Lions team that completely dominated the Packers Offensive line, not allowing much of a running or passing game to develop. The Lions held the packers to three points that day, mostly due to the emergence of cohesion on the defensive line and incredible depth. 

The selection of Nick Fairley makes me wonder if the Detroit Lions are now bordering on an amount of talent so deep along the defensive line that they’re opponents will find it next to impenetrable. It’s obvious that the Detroit got incredibly fortunate to have Fairley available at the 13th pick. 

The idea that Suh and Fairley are redundant, as both play the three technique, is almost laughable to me. The simple reason is that Fairley and Suh are both so explosive that you could move either of them anywhere you want, and they will cause a match up problem. The really incredible thing is, sticking them both side by side creates an even bigger matchup problem.

Here is why. 

We saw nearly every opponent switch between gambling with single coverage and committing double coverage to Suh last year.  And opponents were smart to do that because, as we all saw, when he wasn't double-teamed, Suh made plays. He even made some plays despite the double-team. 

What’s the big deal about Fairley? He’s going to require a double-team too, that’s what. 

The Lions now have two defensive tackles with such explosion that they were basically built to draw double coverage.  Line them up side-by-side and I see no reason why the Lions won't simply run away with the team sack category in 2011. Next year, I expect to see more than one “Jailhouse break,” where so much protection is completely defeated and several defensive front personnel engulf the QB at once.  

That being said, I can see why Jim Schwartz said that the Fairley pick will help the secondary too. Heck, with that front, Chris Huston and Alphonso Smith are likely to just stand back in the secondary and watch in awe as the line of scrimmage erodes in negative yardage without the corners actually having to defend too many accurately thrown passes. 

I think it’s pretty safe to say that if the Fairley pick works out, the inevitable product of it is going to be a defensive front the likes of which the NFL has not seen since the days of “Mean Joe Greene(DT)" and the Pittsburgh Steelers “Steel Curtain.” That front also boasted the likes of LC Greenwood (DE), Ernie Holmes (DT), and Dwight White (DE).