Bill Polian's list of 10 pivotal players in the NFL this season includes Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley. You'll need an Insider subscription to see the entire file, but here is what Polian wrote about Fairley:
Fairley could be the missing piece in making the Detroit defense dominant. If the big Auburn alum can reach his potential, a trio of him, Ndamukong Suh and the emerging Corey Williams could make the Lions' D-line extremely hard to handle up the middle and wreak havoc on the pocket (which will help an improving secondary).
I still think the Lions need more from the running back position to be legitimate title contenders, but if Fairley steps up, an already improved defense will be taken to another level.
The most interesting part of the choice is that Polian didn't bother suggesting that one of the Lions' defensive backs needs to step it up, whether it's safety Amari Spievey or cornerback Aaron Berry or anyone else who might play a prominent role in improving the team's pass defense. Polian instead focused on the impact of strengthening what is already one of the NFL's more dominant defensive fronts.
That appears to be in line with the Lions' philosophy when you look at how they've focused their roster building in recent years. Over the past three years, they've committed big money to sign defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and retain defensive end Cliff Avril. They've used the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to select Suh, and the No. 12 overall pick brought them Fairley.
On the other hand, the Lions did use the No. 33 overall pick of the 2009 draft to select safety Louis Delmas. But for the most part, they have cobbled together the secondary with second-tier moves (and players), knowing it would be protected by a more-talented defensive line. It stands to reason that Fairley's emergence in 2012 would only enhance that approach.