After the Lions took Nick Fairley with the 13th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, there was a lot of criticism and speculation as to why the Lions took him and why he fell that far in the first place. The Lions had pressing needs in their secondary and chose another DT when they had already picked one in Ndamukong Suh the previous year at #2 overall. Most of the criticism turned into love when we realized how special these two can really be for years to come. Others, including me, really wanted Prince Amukamara out of Nebraska or Jimmy Smith out of Colorado to help out our weak secondary. Going into the draft some people were wary of Fairley's worth ethic and character issues. Fairley's draft profiles all said pretty much the same thing.
There are almost no flaws with Fairley's physical tools, but his character and work habits should be checked out. Regardless, he is certainly a top-five talent.
Was it a good pick? I think most of us think so.
Fairley's rookie season wasn't exactly special. Some may call it a disappointment in terms of him being able to get onto the field and also trying to get his character issues in order. Fairley was only able to be on the field for 274 snaps due to spraining his foot early in Training Camp and dealing with nagging injuries all year. In 2011 he was only able to record 1 sack and 15 tackles. This might not seem significant, but PFF still had him at a +7.1 overall rating that year with limited snaps.
Last year, PFF graded Fairley as the 5th best DT in the NFL right behind Suh who was #4. When I first saw this I was pretty shocked. I knew Fairley had a great 2nd half of the season, but is he really that great? How did he grade so high? I thought I'd compare his year last year to Suh's rookie year and last year to get some perspective.
What Does This Tell Us?
Well, the thing that stands out most to me is the fact that Fairley had almost 3 times as many penalties as Suh, with slightly over half the amount of snaps in 2012. It's pretty crazy but not surprising if you watched all of the games last year. Fairley was regularly jumping offsides trying to read the snap count and get a good jump on the QB. Even with the 11 penalties (1 of them offsetting), he was still able to get a good grade. Another thing I found interesting was that Fairley had 2 more stops than Suh last year and Suh had exactly half the amount of stops as his rookie year with around the same amount of snaps. If you didn't know already, PFF describes stops as "the cumulative number of solo defensive tackles made which constitute an offensive failure (including sacks)." So looking at these numbers, it seems to me like last year Suh really had better success at putting pressure QB's and hitting them than he did being able to stuff the run compared to his rookie year.
Last year, Fairley was a monster at stopping the run and filling gaps. And he also put up almost the same amount of QB hurries than Suh on 400 less snaps. Fairley would have probably put up almost the same amount of sacks, QB hits, and QB hurries if he were to match the amount of snaps as Suh, but at what cost? Fairley jumping offsides became a regular thing last year while trying to read the snap count.
Is Fairley's knack for trying to jump the snap count worth it? Fairley led all DT's in the NFL with penalties and was on the field for a little over half the plays as the other guys who racked up a lot of penalties. Fairley was able to consistently pressure all QB's in the 2nd half of last year and racked up 4 of his 5 sacks from week 8-week 14 before going on the IR. But he also racked up 7 penalties in those 7 games as well.
Suh had 4 penalties compared to 10 his rookie year. Will Fairley be able to become more disciplined as well next year? And at what cost would that be concerning his production? These are some questions I thought I'd bring up and see what you guys think.
I think if Fairley can continue to stop smoking weed and stay healthy and play consistently, then we will have the best 1-2 punch at DT in the NFL, and this can only make our young guys at DE better.