GLENDALE AZ - JANUARY 10: Nick Fairley #90 of the Auburn Tigers sacks Marvin Johnson #1 of the Oregon Ducks in the fourth quarter of the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10 2011 in Glendale Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Our look at 2011 NFL Draft prospect Nick Fairley continues with a discussion with SB Nation's Auburn blogger Klell Lawrence. Lawrence has been kind enough to answers our questions on Fairley's college career. For more on the Auburn Tigers, you can head over the Track 'Em Tigers.
Fairley did not make the leap from high school directly to Auburn, instead attending Junior College at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in 2007 and 2008.
"Fairley was originally recruited to Auburn out of high school, and initially did not qualify academically," Lawrence explained in our email exchange. "Taking the JUCO route, Nick brought his academics to a level as to qualify at Auburn, and came to Auburn in Gene Chizik's first year, 2009."
That season was more or less average, but in 2010 Fairley exploded onto the college scene and up draft boards.
"Fairley had shown glimpses of greatness during 2009, and gave us all hope of having a dominant defensive lineman again at Auburn," Lawrence continued. "No one saw that explosion into the Lombardi Award winning season he had, except Nick, and his coach Tracey Rocker. He is now the new benchmark at AU, which has a rich tradition of All-SEC defensive linemen."
Lawrence specifically mentioned the huge jump in Fairley's production between his first season in D-1 football and his second in 2010 when he was named the best defensive lineman in the country. Teams tried to stop him but were unsuccessful, says the Auburn blogger.
"Nearly tripling all the major stats from 2009, Nick was best described as a force," Lawrence said. "Constantly in the backfield disrupting plays, making himself known and seen by the opposing team's QB. Many of Nick's highlights show him completely dominating any blocking scheme thrown at him. Example: on one of his tackles for a loss against Georgia this past season, he had been triple teamed in the blocking scheme, and still made the tackle for no gain on the running back."
While some players step up against weaker competition, Fairley thrived in the hard-nosed SEC against top opponents and in other big-time spots.
"Nick was the closest thing to a clutch performer we had seen at Auburn in nearly three years," Lawrence said. "Without taking away from some good players from the past two seasons, comparing them to Nick is just unfair. Nick actually has the ability to change a game, turn the momentum, or make offensive schemes adjust to his game. It seemed every time Auburn needed a clutch defensive stand, they would deliver, and Nick was a huge reason for it."
Fairley has a reputation in some circles as being a dirty player. Georgia Bulldogs fans specifically have had issues with Fairley's play in the past. Here's a video from a local Georgia television station on some of what they considered dirty play from Fairley. (Warning: the language in the comments section is very NSFW.) Lawrence says these incidents were trumped up by Georgia fans.
"That was way overblown especially by the UGA fans. One personal foul penalty, and one celebration penalty is all I can remember him being called for all season. Seems every draft pick has something the scouts must 'investigate' but most like a D-Linemen with a mean streak. Coach Chizik stood by him, so will I. Most of it stems from the Georgia game, where he did get flagged for unsportsmanlike, but that was after the third attempt at a chop block on him and [fellow DL] Zac Clayton. Then [Georgia coach] Mark Richt showed all of us his true class and dignity by calling a 'code red' on Fairley. He even sent a letter to the SEC offices complaining about Fairley."
Lawrence continues to refer to Fairley's mean streak and tough playing style as a positive. On the Bills' soft run defense, it could certainly be an asset.
"There is little doubt that his aggressive style of play mentioned earlier translates extremely well into the professional ranks," noted Lawrence. "Some of the ESPN analysts have compared his game to Warren Sapp. High praise indeed.
"My favorite memory of Nick is against Alabama, no surprise there right? It was more for what he didn't do than what he actually did. After being flagged for a celebration penalty, Nick realized he was a target of the referee crew. The next time Fairley made a big play in the backfield, he just put his head down, and walked quickly back to the defensive side of the ball."
While his physical and playing skills are evident, the real role of the collegiate bloggers in our Baker's Dozen series is to find out about the players on campus and off the field. Lawrence was more than happy to oblige.
"I do not know Nick personally, but if he is anything at all like his Twitter account suggest, he is a very well spoken man, with a great sense of humor. Not at all afraid to interact with the fans.
"Thanks for asking us to be a part of this quest for more Nick Fairley," said Lawrence in his closing remarks. "There really isn't a whole lot to know except he is a tremendous talent with a great big smile and positive attitude. Most of the really good players from the Mobile, Alabama area are, and Nick is no exception. You can ask your very own Buffalo Bills players that know Nick Fairley, they will stand up for him, and that just about says all anyone would need to know."
Bills OLB Antonio Coleman played with Fairley in 2009.