Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC South [Print without images]

Thursday, April 14, 2011
Not another Albert: Nick Fairley fits Titans

By Paul Kuharsky

Nick FairleY
Nick Fairley had 12 sacks and 56 tackles in 2010 as the dominant force on Auburn's defensive line.
Albert Haynesworth is surly. Nick Fairley is silly.

That’s the gist of a review I got from an AFC scout when I took him the idea that Fairley, the defensive tackle from Auburn who could go to the Titans at No. 8 in the draft, is like Haynesworth, the defensive tackle from Tennessee who went to the Titans at No. 15 in 2002.

Haynesworth didn’t always play hard, dealt with nagging injuries, stomped an opponent’s face and was motivated by money. But at times he was an absolutely dominant force in the middle who had a positive bearing on every player on defense and helped the Titans contend for the playoffs.

Popular thinking on Fairley now suggests a big contract could lead a collegiate one-year wonder, who took plays off during a fantastic season, to become lazy or complacent.

My scout says it’s an off-kilter comparison.

“Fairley is more happy-go-lucky, he’s not Haynesworth,” he said. “Albert played with a huge chip on his shoulder, like everybody was against him. This kid, when he hits the field, yeah, no question he’s a competitive son of a gun. But he’s not Albert …

“I think Fairley clearly has a chance to be a special player. You’ve got to remember, he’s a Southern, Southern kid. He’s a bayou-type kid. The [Titans] had a guy like [defensive end] Antwan Odom who was a bayou kid -- it can be misconstrued as not having a passion. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think this kid is a fun-loving type of kid who’s silly.”

“Yeah, he’s going to make mistakes. Are they going to be glaring or things done on purpose? His mistakes are going to come out of, pardon the expression, ignorance, just not knowing. License registration and stuff like that -- 'Oh, I didn’t even know I had to register my car.'”

Did I find one guy who doesn’t see Fairley as a concern?

Well, two other scouts also chimed in. One said he doesn't worry that Fairley could turn lazy. The other expressed apprehension, but said it wouldn't  stop him from taking Fairley at No. 8 if he was with the Titans.

I knew Haynesworth at his best, and actually thought he was a bit misunderstood.

It took too long for things to click for him, but he wasn’t a bad guy in Tennessee. He wasn’t always brooding. He could be light-hearted and funny. He liked to talk about work as a travel agent and to show off his newest gadget. He got good enough that he could speak his mind without fearing the consequences, and I think a locker room needs at least one star like that.

He played his best when a contract was at stake. I was a member of the camp that didn’t care for that. I also didn't care for his tendency to need help off the field for injuries that proved less than serious. He responded very well to the Andre Gurode incident -- where he stepped on the Dallas Cowboys' center's head -- but it obviously shouldn’t have happened in the first place. He has not handled himself nearly as well in Washington, but Mike Shanahan practically poked him with a stick. Haynesworth had or has issues with anger management and fast driving.

But everyone who played with him in Tennessee wanted him on the field, doing his thing.

Albert Haynesworth
Some scouts say Nick Fairley's personality is nothing like that of Albert Haynesworth.
If Fairley can give the Titans that type of play and carries less risk of the drama, he looks like an appealing addition to a defense that needs to be revamped. After these scout conversations, I’ll offer no objection if he’s the selection.

Still, plenty of analysts continue to voice concerns.

“A lot of early round defensive tackles end up being busts,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “They are just freak human beings and even the highest levels of the college game can be easy for them. If their work ethic isn't top-notch, they often bust. Fairley seems to take a lot of plays off. He turns it off and on. That is a huge warning sign for me, especially at defensive tackle.”

Not all scouting eyes see plays off last season at Auburn, however. Charley Casserly told Jim Wyatt that playing too high and getting blocked on plays was mistaken for shutting down.

Draft analyst Mike Detillier of NFL Draft Report said he loves Fairley but has some fear of plays off. He thinks Tennessee’s new defensive line coach, Tracy Rocker, knows how to find Fairley's on switch since he coached the tackle at Auburn last season. There is risk with him, though, and work ethic after a payday is one of the hardest things to predict, he said.

That reminds me of my absolute favorite scouting maxim, one I learned from late Oilers/Titans scout Glen Cumbee: Money makes a guy more of what he is.

So good guys become better guys; bad ones become worse.

I’ve only had one interaction with Fairley, far too little to judge him on. If the Titans can plug him into their old scout's equation and not have doubt, they may have their man.

One other question about Fairley that’s come from readers is about his size. If the Titans are striving to get stouter, how does Fairley, at just under 6-foot-3 and between 290 and 300 pounds, do that when the Titans have Tony Brown (6-3, 305) and Sen'Derrick Marks (6-2, 295)?

Well, Brown's got chronic knee issues that could mean he’s only a situational player now and Marks, another Auburn guy, has not yet proven worthy of a second-round pick in 2009.

Meanwhile, Fairley has hardly maxed out.

“He’s a big, big, massive man,” the scout said. “You’ve got to realize he hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he’s going to be physically. He’s going to get bigger and he’s going to get stronger, which is scary, and he’s got great feet. He’s a big basketball guy. He really thought he was going to the NBA as a kid.”

If there are no big surprises who fall to No. 8, I suspect the Titans will go with Fairley. They may like Washington quarterback Jake Locker, but not that high. If they find a willing partner, they could move down and still stand a chance of landing Fairley a bit later with Minnesota (12th), the Giants (19th) and Indianapolis (22nd), the biggest possibilities to take him out of need.

If the Titans moved back and Fairley disappears, they could turn to a defensive end like Adrian Clayborn or J.J. Watt, or they could look to Locker.

But no one may be a better addition than Fairley.

“Does he fit Tennessee?" the scout said. "Yeah, if everything you’re hearing is true and they want to get bigger and stronger and more physical, yeah he’s all three. You can put a check next to bigger and stronger and more physical.”