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Making the Leap, No. 11: Detroit Lions DT Nick Fairley

  • By Kevin Patra NFL.com
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Around The League will profile the top 40 players we see Making the Leap in 2013. No. 11 on the list: Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Why Fairley is on the list


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For a brief moment in time, Nick Fairely's name was whispered as a potential candidate for No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Instead, the Auburn product slid to the Detroit Lions at No. 13.

It's not difficult to see why some thought he could be drafted so high. The 6-foot-4, 298 pound defensive tackle's physical attributes jump off the screen during a film session. The 25-year-old has a rare combination of debilitating power and deft quickness. His burst off the ball can be breathtaking and when single-blocked last season he regularly beat the offensive player off the ball and wreaked havoc in the backfield -- especially when down-blocked by the center.

It's somewhat surprising that a defensive tackle entering his third season can be so diversified in his rushing skill set. While his brute strength is his biggest assets, as the video above displays, Fairley's nimble feet and good hands allow him to dominate one-on-one matchups.

I will argue that Fairley actually is better than his counterpart, Ndamukong Suh, at diagnosing screens and run plays at this stage in their careers. The video to the right illustrates every aspect of Fairley's potential. He comes off the ball with leverage, tosses the blocking guard aside with ease and wraps up Adrian Peterson, only the most difficult running back to bring down in the NFL.


Obstacles


Fairley's health concerns always are referenced first when discussing his upward trajectory. The third-year pro missed nine games in his first two seasons -- six after undergoing foot surgery before his rookie season and the final three games last season after suffering a shoulder injury. If you believe Warren Sapp, Fairley's "little legs" never will allow him to function at 100 percent for a season. 

As far as his on-field play, Fairley must cut down on the penalties. He plays too close to the football for the bevy of offside penalties he committed last year, and he needs to cut out the boneheaded personal fouls -- although if the video to the right is evidence, perhaps he's learning to not body slam Aaron Rodgers

Fairley also needs to become more consistent. He has the motor to run down plays when he gets the scent of pigskin -- or quarterback -- in his nostrils, but he gets washed out of plays far too often for a dominant tackle. Fairley's biggest obstacle, as with most players making the leap, will be taking what he does extraordinarily and extrapolating it through an entire game.

2013 Expectations


We know Fairley's expectations for his team and his defensive tackle tandem: Super Bowl; best duo in the NFL.

The former might be a stretch, but the latter is wholly attainable, if not already true.

I'm not as worried about the injury concerns as some -- I contend that if the Lions were in the playoff hunt last season we wouldn't have seen him on injured reserve. 

Fairley's final six games of 2012 are the best indicator of his expectations in 2013. He averaged 4.33 tackles and 0.67 sacks per game from Week 9 to Week 14. Those averages for an entire season would equate to 69 tackles and 10.5 sacks. If he even sniffs those numbers he will make his first career Pro Bowl

Follow Kevin Patra on Twitter @kpatra.

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