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Fairley offers more risk than reward

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About the Author

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Posted Feb. 28, 2011 @ 10:11 a.m. ET
By Nolan Nawrocki

Fifth of a six-part series

Each day during the Scouting Combine through Tuesday, we'll feature Nolan Nawrocki's in-depth scouting report of a top draft prospect.

3T Nick Fairley, #90 (Junior)
Auburn
| PFW Grade: 6.10
Ht:
6-3 7/8 | Wt: 291 | Sp: 4.84 | Arm: 34 3/4 | Hand: 9 3/4

Notes: A two-way lineman as an Alabama prep. Failed to qualify out of high school and attended Copiah-Lincoln Community College (Miss.) for two years — redshirting in 2007 and posting 74 tackles, 11 for loss and eight sacks with a forced fumble in '08 (eight games). Played all 13 games for the Tigers in '09, starting two, and tallied 28-3½-1½ with a blocked FG attempt. Started all 14 games for the national champions in '10 and had more stops for loss than any other defensive tackle in the nation — registered 60-24-11½ with an interception and a forced fumble, capturing the Lombardi Award.  

Positives: Very quick off the ball and disruptive. Has explosive hips and is a violent, head-snapping tackler. Good balance and agility. Has long arms and quick, active hands and knows how to keep defenders off his frame. Times the snap well, throws his hips in the hole and wins one-on-one matchups. Can split the double team. Excellent closing speed — smells blood.  Rips off blocks and continually shows up behind the line of scrimmage. Flashed the ability to dominate and take over games, as he did late against LSU and Alabama. Plays with a mean streak and continually seeks to punish quarterbacks (knocked three out of games as a junior) and agitate blockers.

Negatives: Plays too upright with an inconsistent pad level and stalls at the line of scrimmage if he does not win at the snap. Does not play with pop in his hands. Cannot dig his heels in the ground against the double-team — was pancaked vs. Georgia OG Clint Boling. Not a glass eater ideally suited to occupy blocks. Tends to freelance, lose gap integrity and, at times, lose the ball. Not smart or disciplined and brain freezes show up in his play. Lacks power and bulk strength. Is only a one-year producer and has underachiever tendencies — loafs on the backside and takes plays off. Lacks stamina. Plays dirty, seeks cheap shots and has been flagged for foolish, unsportsmanlike penalties. Needs to be pushed and is not a self starter.

Summary: An explosive, finesse three-technique, Fairley could make your draft or break your heart. Showed he could be a dominating force for a national championship team, took over games and could be unblockable in the interior of a "40" front if he stays motivated and uses good technique. However, he will require a very nuanced, demanding positional coach and might need to be limited to 40 snaps per game to maximize his talent. The more highly he is drafted, the greater the likelihood that he will bust, as a big pay day easily could sap his motivation. Compares to Saints 2003 sixth-overall pick Johnathan Sullivan (a bust) and could fizzle out of the league as fast as he arrives if he enters a non-challenging, unstructured environment. Has boom-or-bust potential.

NFL projection: Top-10 pick.

Nolan Nawrocki's 2011 Draft Preview book, with scouting reports on approximately 500 prospects, will go on sale March 29 at bookstores everywhere. It also can be preordered at PFWstore.com either individually or as part of a combo-pack with the 2011 Draft Guide magazine, which goes on sale March 1.

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