Detroit Lions 2013 Breakout Candidate: Nick Fairley
During his first two seasons in the NFL, defensive tackle Nick Fairley has battled the injury bug more than opposing offensive linemen. Out of 32 possible games thus far in his career, Fairley has missed nine of those contests for the Detroit Lions. When he has been on the field, one could already argue that he has proven to be a dominant player on the interior of the Lions defensive front. This season will finally be the one where all of the ingredients come together for a breakout campaign for Fairley in Detroit.
Playing alongside one of the league’s most devastating defensive tackle already in Ndamukong Suh, Fairley has the ability to fly under the radar on many plays. Trying to block him one-on-one has proven to be a near impossibility to offensive linemen thus far as his rare combination of power and finesse pass rush moves can evade would-be blockers with ease. Fairley uses a terrific first step to get the leg up on blockers and from there it quickly becomes evidently that it will be a long day for whoever is lined up across from him at the line of scrimmage.
Although he has only played in 23 games to date, Fairley’s 6.5 sacks illustrate his ability to collapse the pocket on opposing quarterbacks. He uses a variety of pass rush moves to get around linemen and has a non-stop motor with a nose for the quarterback once he does.
Having a unique defensive coordinator like Gunther Cunningham certainly works to Fairley’s advantage as well as Cunningham likes to utilize stunts along the defensive front to expose any mismatches he may see. Fairley’s quickness makes him an ideal candidate to use these variations in schemes to his benefit.
It’s hard to know what freakish first round pick Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah will do in his first season in Detroit, but his presence can’t hurt when it comes to drawing more blockers away from Fairely. The Lions have clearly built a solid foundation on defense, and Fairley is one of the key components to realizing that potential.
His 6.5 career sacks could quickly become a distant memory this season as Fairley should easily eclipse that total this year alone if he can stay healthy. That caveat will always linger over a player like him that has struggled to stay on the field, but this could be the year health finally cooperates and allows him to play a full season.
If so, offensive linemen in the NFC North can consider this their fair warning. Fairley is poised to break out onto the national scene as one of the league’s top interior defensive linemen in 2013.