Across the board, Auburn DT Nick Fairley is considered to be an elite-level talent with rare athletic ability as an interior pass rusher. That doesn’t seem to be questioned among scouts and NFL talent evaluators.
The lingering questions that follow Fairley, the ones that end up as red flags attached to his draft profile, focus on his intangibles. And as teams enter the final phases of their evaluation process, they’re poking holes in everything they see and hear to find out what’s real, what’s rumor and what they can live with.
In that way, Fairley isn’t unlike any other top-level prospect.
Fair or not, his non-traditional route to the NFL via Copiah-Lincoln Community College that ended in one big season at Auburn also has resulted in questions about his work ethic and a media label as a “one-year wonder.” Did the light just turn on for Fairley? Is he still going through the learning process? Will he be willing to work on the next level with NFL-caliber coaches to be an elite player?
These are legitimate questions for NFL teams, questions they will have to answer.
“I don’t think anyone who watches his game tape this year would question his passion or commitment to it. I think some of the stigma attached to him specifically might be prior to 2010,” said one NFC scout. “I don’t know that it’s completely without merit. You can probably talk to 10 scouts and eight have heard the same thing from the school. It’s not without merit, but if you watch the tape you don’t see someone that’s lazy, either.”
Evaluating Fairley on the next level is one thing, projecting what he’ll do when he gets there is another.
“He’s still learning how to be a worker, whether or not he ever gets there, that remains to be seen,” said an AFC scout. “He’s not there right now, that’s for sure. It’s going to give some teams some pause. You’re trying to find as ‘clean’ a prospect as you can, especially with the higher picks. At the end of the day, there are guys who have been a lot worse who have been taken that high.”
Fairley entered the Scouting Combine in the conversation as the potential top overall pick, a high-ceiling prospect who simultaneously gets mentioned in the “boom or bust” category. Talent isn’t the question on Fairley. We know the game tapes don’t lie. How teams answer the remaining questions, and how comfortable they are with those answers, will determine whether Fairley is a true risk or not.