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Thursday, May 16, 2013
The pressing matter of NFL's best DT duo

By Kevin Seifert

In the still of a Thursday in May, Nick Fairley's suggestion that he is part of the NFL's best defensive tackle duo qualifies as a worthy football discussion. I waded in on Twitter this morning, noting that Fairley's inconsistency in his first two seasons required some projection to claim such a title, and I barely escaped the ensuing whirlpool.

Fairley
Suh
My thought: Fairley had a dominant five-game stretch for the Detroit Lions late last season, one that showed us what kind of player he could be, especially when paired with Ndamukong Suh. But the rest of Fairley's career has been much less notable. He had four sacks and 23 tackles in that dominating stretch. In the other 18 games he has played, Fairley has a total of 2.5 sacks and 26 tackles. Meanwhile, foot and shoulder injuries have caused him to miss nine games.

To me, it's hard to stake claims even to a mythical title based on what you could do rather than what you have done. Of course, many of you asked the natural follow-up question: If Suh and Fairley aren't the best defensive tackle pair, then who is?

I reached out to Matt Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com and is in a far better position to answer that question than me. We had to eliminate 3-4 teams, significantly diminishing the pool, and then we went through each division looking for possible competitors.

We noted the Cincinnati Bengals' duo of Geno Atkins and Domata Peko, along with the New England Patriots' new grouping of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. The Buffalo Bills' pair of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams would merit conversation if they were used more regularly in a 4-3.

In the end, however, Williamson said: "None of the second guys are as good as Fairley. So I agree with him. I think he's right."

To be clear, I think the Lions could very well have the best pair of defensive tackles in the league when this season is over. And I accept Williamson's assessment that no team has two interior defenders who are each as dynamic as Fairley and Suh are. In a dearth of alternatives, that grants our mythical title to the Lions.

But I don't know. Fairley sure is getting a lot of respect for a player whose body of work is decidedly mixed. Perhaps he is on the cusp of rendering that status moot. We'll see.