Not long ago, Nick Fairley was projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
The Auburn defensive tackle's stock seems to have dipped since then amid questions about his work ethic, but Fairley is trying to keep his focus on landing a job and not on what people are saying about him.
"If I would really pay attention to it, it would be a very stressful deal for me," he said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I really just try not to pay attention to it, to just let things flow out. They had me at the top, then they dropped me down."
It's not as if the Lombardi Award winner and defensive star for the BCS national champion Tigers has plunged down the draft boards. He's still widely projected to go in the top 10, with many mock drafts predicting the Tennessee Titans will select him at No. 8 on April 28 in New York.
Fairley has conducted private interviews with the Titans, Denver Broncos (No. 2 pick), Buffalo Bills (3), Cincinnati Bengals (4), Cleveland Browns (6) and Washington Redskins (10). Fairley's agent, Brian Overstreet, said another team picking in the top 10 also has started talks with them.
According to NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora, some NFL general managers wonder about Fairley's decision-making on and off the field. One GM recently told La Canfora: "I'm scared as hell of Fairley. We see a lot of risk there." But the same GM also figured that Fairley will be drafted in the top 15, if not the top 10.
Fairley said any questions about him should be answered by the difficult route he took to Auburn, rising from a junior-college player to one of the nation's top defensive players in two years.
"My work ethic's not a problem," he said. "I think it's more like what you bring to the table when you're out there on Sundays, is what the teams are looking for. I've been working hard since I played football, having to go the juco route. My work ethic shouldn't be an issue."
Fairley certainly made giant strides in two years at Auburn. He had just 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks as a sophomore while showing flashes as a pass rusher late in the season.
It's still a far cry from the 24 stops behind the line and 11.5 sacks of last season, when Fairley's quickness and explosiveness for a 6-foot-4, 291-pounder made him seem downright unblockable at times.
Overstreet said he told his client to ignore any draft projections, both when Fairley was pegged No. 1 and now as a top-10 selection.
"The draft is really a chess match," Overstreet said. "No teams tells the others what they're going to do. We understand the process they're going to go through with a fine-toothed comb.
"It comes down to who they actually like and who fills the need."
Fairley, who will return to Auburn this weekend for the Tigers' spring game, said NFL teams haven't dropped any hints that they might take him.
"I don't even have a feeling where I'll go," he said.
Fairley also said the interview and meeting process since the NFL Scouting Combine in February and Auburn's pro day in March has featured a fun side, even with millions of dollars potentially on the line.
"It's been pretty cool just seeing the facilities and getting to know the personalities of the coaches," Fairley said. "I'm just really being myself. They're trying to get to know who you are. If they're going to draft you, they have to know who you are. I think I did a good job letting them know what I can do if they were to draft me and for their franchise."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.