The Detroit Lions watched Nick Fairley’s draft stock fall during the 2011 NFL Draft. Fairley, a National Championship winner with Auburn University, was supposed to be the first overall pick. A MVP performance during the BCS National Championship Game propelled Fairley ahead of others. Then, Fairley failed to impress during the Scouting Combine. The defensive tackle prospect fell to the 8th through 12th range. When Fairley was available with the Lions 13th overall pick, the team pulled the trigger.
Fairley was a surprising pick for many Lions fans, as they already had Ndamukong Suh. The Lions star defensive tackle had an outstanding year in 2010, so what did they need Fairley for? Unfortunately for the Lions, Fairley struggled with injuries during his rookie season of 2011. He posted only 15 tackles and one sack in 10 games for Detroit.
On Saturday, the Lions named Fairley the winner of the Chuck Hughes Most Improved Award. The Lions team voted on the award and made the right call with Fairley. The young defensive tackle battled back from injuries and became a dominating presence on the Lions defense.
In 2012, Fairley played in 13 games before being put on the injured reserve list at the end of the season. Fairley had 34 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. In a game against NFC North rivals Green Bay Packers, Fairley had 7 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble. An injury to starter Corey Williams bumped Fairley up to a starting role. The combination of Suh and Fairley looked impressive for the Lions defense.
The Lions signed Fairley to a $10 million four year deal in 2011. Williams is a free agent, so Fairley could have an even more increased role in the 2013 season. Either way, Fairley has shown that he is capable of starting for the Lions. Hopefully Fairley has also grown up and put some of his off the field issues behind him, as he was arrested for marijuana and alcohol incidents in 2012.
The Chuck Hughes Award was given to quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2011, who also won it for a good season after injury. The award is named after former Lion Hughes, who died of a fatal heart attack during a NFL game.