Starting all 14 games for the BCS National Champions last season at defensive tackle, Fairley had one of the top seasons of any defensive player not only in Auburn history but SEC history as well. Finishing with 60 tackles, 11 ½ sacks, 24 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries to go along with one interception, the 6-4, 295-pounder was as dominant as you can possibly be from the interior defensive line in 2010.
Playing his first season ever as a defensive tackle in 2009, Fairley played in all 13 games for the Tigers with just two starts. He finished the year with 28 tackles, three and a half tackles for a loss, and one and half sacks. That gives him career totals of 88 tackles, 13 sacks and 27 ½ tackles for a loss in 27 games played. Not too shabby.
Let's compare those numbers to some of the names that have filled the minds of draft gurus the last few years, starting with Marcell Dareus from Alabama this season. Now rated by many as the top defensive lineman in the draft and by ESPN's Todd McShay as the overall number one player, Dareus played three seasons for the Crimson Tide and put up good numbers.
Fairley causes and recovers a fumble against Alabama.
As a junior he made 34 tackles with four and a half sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in 11 games after being suspended for the first two games for off the field issues. That gave him 71 total tackles, 11 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss in his career at Alabama, a career that spanned 35 games played.
What about LSU's Glenn Dorsey, who ESPN's Chris Lowe named the SEC's most dominant defensive player for the decade. Playing in 51 games in his career at LSU with 30 starts, Dorsey made 179 tackles with 13 sacks, 27 tackles for a loss, and one forced fumble.
The only player that can match what Fairley achieved last season at Auburn is Nebraska standout and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh. As a senior for the Cornhuskers Suh made 85 tackles with 12 sacks and 24 tackles for a loss in 14 games. Other than his tackle totals almost the exact figures that Fairley put up last season.
While numbers don't tell the whole story they do show something of what Fairley was able to do in just his second year as a defensive tackle. Coming out of Williamson High in Mobile he was considered a tight end and possible offensive tackle until making the move to defensive end in junior college. Playing just one season there and taking a redshirt, Fairley has been on the fast track to learning how to play defensive tackle since that time.
His maturation showed at the end of the 2009 season as he produced one and a half sacks and 11 total tackles against Georgia, Alabama and Northwestern to finish the season on a high note that he continued into his dominant performance as a junior.
Heading into tonight's NFL Draft First Day the talk surrounding Fairley has been that he's a one-hit wonder, that he takes plays off, that his attitude on the field isn't what you need in the NFL.
Fairley put on a show at Auburn's Pro Day at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Again all I can do is back those up with numbers. If Fairley is a one-hit wonder and playing just his second season at defensive tackle it would stand to reason that he would only improve based on his knowledge of the game. His numbers also show that if he's indeed a one-hit wonder, then what is Dareus? He's played in three full seasons at the same position and his numbers don't equal Fairley's. If Fairley takes plays off like the experts say then what does that say about Dareus?
As for attitude Fairley is again very similar to Suh, a player that received multiple personal fouls in college at Nebraska. He carried that over to the NFL where he plays with an edge, but it also helped him to become an All-Pro his first season. Will Fairley make that big of an impact? Nobody can answer that, but there is no question that whatever team drafts him is going to get an impact player right away.
The NFL Draft gets started at 7 p.m. central time tonight from New York City with the Carolina Panthers on the clock with the first pick of the first round. The second and third rounds will take place on Friday beginning at 5 p.m. central time. Rounds 4-7 will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday.