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Friday, April 29, 2011
Fairley 'was an outstanding interview'

By Kevin Seifert

At one point in the pre-draft process, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley was considered the top prospect available. So why was he available when the Detroit Lions jumped on the clock at No. 13?

Nick Fairley
Nick Fairley won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top collegiate lineman last season.
Here was a portion of Scouts Inc.'s report: "Multiple NFL scouts have raised concerns regarding his work ethic and maturity. Has been late to meetings with NFL teams. Football character needs to be examined, as does mental capacity. Did not initially qualify academically and enrolled in a junior college."

Another reason, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said, was a run of four quarterbacks in the top 12 picks of the draft.

Ultimately, the Lions had to decide if those concerns were justified and, if they were, whether the No. 13 spot was an appropriate place to take a calculated risk. General manager Martin Mayhew brought in Fairley for a late draft visit to the team's Allen Park facility, and he also relied on a recommendation from Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker -- a former NFL teammate.

"He was an outstanding interview," Mayhew said. "Great with us. ... Tracy speaks very highly of the young man. I spent a lot of time with him when he was here in the building and I think he's a good player and a good person. He's going to fit in here well. We've got great leadership in that room so I'm excited about working with him."

We'll give Mayhew the benefit of the doubt because, from what I can tell, he's done more than a solid job judging character among the player acquisitions he's made over the past three years. So if Fairley works out on a personal level, I have to imagine the rest of the NFC North will be casting an increasingly wary eye in the Lions direction.

I can only imagine how much fun Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham are going to have building schemes and stunts for a line that also includes All-Pro Ndamukong Suh, team captain Kyle Vanden Bosch and a pretty good nose tackle in Corey Williams. Oh, and don't forget that defensive end Cliff Avril had five sacks in 13 games last season.

Speaking to Detroit-area reporters Thursday night, Schwartz echoed what we first discussed Thursday evening: The Lions have enhanced their team strength, a position that could cover for other deficiencies.

"The philosophy here was we're drafting to our strength," Schwartz said. "Defensive line is a strength of what we do. We won our last four last year and you can have probably a quiz show to find out who our corners were in those games, but we were good up front. Being good up front is what drives our defense.

"We have players that could be an impact player for us at a position. We didn't worry too much about what his playtime was going to be. We knew where he was on the board for us, how much we liked him and he fit really well, so we didn't hesitate to make the pick."