Senior Writer

Nick-pick all you want, Fairley is draft's best player


INDIANAPOLIS -- Dirty player. One-year wonder. Too thin. Takes plays off.

Pick, pick, pick.

Bit by bit, the media, the scouts, the personnel people, and even a former high-profile NFL defensive tackle have taken their shots at Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley. That's what happens when you're at the top of most draft boards.

The only place to go is down.

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It's easy to find reasons for most to take a player down. This, after all, is the season for paralysis by analysis, a time when scouts and coaches look to shred rather than boost.

If they're doing it with Fairley, they are way off base. He's the best player in this draft. Just watch the tape.

Forget all the negatives, Fairley has the biggest positive of all: He is a force.

I told Fairley Sunday that everyone seems to be picking him apart.

"That's OK," he said. "Everybody has their opinions."

The Fairley beatdown covers all angles. When he came here andmeasured 6-feet-4, but weighed 291 pounds, it set off the not-big-enough talk. Added to the other stuff, it added more to the theory he is falling down the draft boards.

"I don't see it," one NFC coach said. "The kid is a power player. Sure, there will be concerns that he did it just one season. But that one season was special."

It ended with Auburn winning the national championship and Fairley dominating in the victory over Oregon. He had five tackles, three for losses, one sack and a forced fumble.

It looked even more dominant than that.

Fairley played at that level all of 2010, going from unknown to the best player in the draft. That fast rise has some wondering where he was in 2009, his first at Auburn.

That season, transferring from a junior college, he had two starts and 35 tackles.

"The one-hit wonder, that's not me," Fairley said. "Coming out of juco, I didn't really know the technique. It's a lot different in the SEC. Guys are bigger, stronger, faster. I just wasn't prepared for it."

Fairley also answered the question about whether he took plays off.

"I think I play with a high motor," he said. "I hit a light switch once I hit the field and leave it on until I leave the field."

Fairley is a bigger Warren Sapp in my eyes. He has the same in-line quickness Sapp displayed during his NFL career, which is bound to end in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That's why it was somewhat surprising to hear Sapp say he preferred Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to Fairley.

'The one-hit wonder, that's not me," Fairley says. 'Coming out of juco, I didn't really know the technique.' (Getty Images)  
'The one-hit wonder, that's not me," Fairley says. 'Coming out of juco, I didn't really know the technique.' (Getty Images)  
"I didn't hear that," Fairley said. "Now that I know it, I'll just say he'll have to wait and see what type of player both of us are in the National Football League."

Fairley's dirty-play label comes from getting hit with several personal-foul penalties last season. There was actually some talk that he might even be suspended for a game or two, but that never happened.

"Everybody is entitled to their opinion," Fairley said.

Fairley gives off the impression he couldn't care less what you, me or anybody else thinks.

Asked if he should be the first player picked, he stopped before answering and laughed.

"Is that a trick question?" Fairley said. "I think that was a trick question."

The Carolina Panthers own the top pick and they have a huge void at defensive tackle. If they want to fix their defense, Fairley should be the pick.

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season after being the second player taken. The value is definitely there for a big, strong inside player.

"I think it helped us out a lot," Fairley said. "Coming out last year with the impact that he had on the college game. Now all the D-tackles are starting to make some noise. Him coming out and making a lot of noise in college helped us a lot."

Now the torch is being passed. It's Fairley's time.

For all those picking him to shreds, they might want to rethink that.

Nick Fairley is the best player in this draft, no matter how many people try to knock him down.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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