Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley had an up and down first two seasons in the NFL. At times, he showed his potential and exactly why the Lions made him a first-round pick in 2011. The problem is that injuries often kept him off the field, and he missed a total of nine games in his first two seasons as a result.
Last year, before his season ended early because of an injury, Fairley became a starter for the Lions. He played exceptionally well next to Ndamukong Suh, and he finished the season with 34 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.
This year, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks expects Fairley to be even better. Actually, Brooks thinks Fairley will be the NFL's most improved defensive lineman in 2013. Brooks really likes Fairley's skillset, especially with Suh alongside him on the D-line.
Standing 6-foot-4, 298 pounds, Fairley is an ultra-athletic interior defender with an exceptional combination of power and first-step quickness. He is a rare interior pass rusher with the ability to overpower or outmaneuver blockers at the point of attack. This not only makes him difficult to block in isolated situations, but it creates chaos when opponents elect to double-team in pass protection. Looking at the All-22 footage from 2012, Fairley routinely defeated opponents with a devastating bull rush that collapsed the pocket up the middle. He forklifted blockers before quickly shedding them and pursuing the ball with relentlessness.
Brooks projects Fairley to finish the 2013 season with 45 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. He also thinks that if Fairley can stay healthy and "continue to develop and refine his game as a pass rusher," the Lions will have the best defensive tackle tandem in the entire NFL.