Whatever reputation that Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley had coming into Monday night's national championship game, he lived up to it. He was as dominant as he was dirty. Regardless of his stats in the national championship game, if you watched, you know he did more for his team than a stat sheet could ever say.
It seemed that on almost every down, Fairley was in the backfield disrupting plays, holding the high powered Oregon running game that averaged over 300 yards in the regular season to a mere 75 yards and 2.3 yards per carry. When Darren Thomas needed to pass, he often had to do so with Fairley bearing down on him. There's no question that Nick Fairley's name should be right next to Cam Newton's and Michael Dyer's as the biggest reasons that Toomer's Corner is covered in toilet paper today.
On top of all the tangible abilities like strength and speed that Fairley exhibits, he has an attitude that could add a spark to any defense. While some would call him a dirty player, others would say that he has the attitude necessary to be successful in the NFL. During the championship game, Fairley was penalized for twisting a players helmet at the bottom of a pile. While it was a stupid mistake and could have cost Auburn much more than it did, it was just an example of why Fairley would be one of the most hated players in the AFC North -- a dynamic that the Bengals defense doesn't have and could desperately use.
Here are some things that different draft sites have said about Fairley:
There is no question that Fairley is a good player. His playing style and effort could immediately give a defense an attitude. Rival teams will hate Fairley and his penchant for cheap shots.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik calls talk that his star defensive tackle Nick Fairley is a dirty player "absurd." Fairley has bodyslammed quarterbacks and knocked three out of games with hard hits. The talk escalated following a late hit on Georgia's Aaron Murray. Asked Friday if he tries to hurt quarterbacks, Fairley responded, "Of course not." Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas says the Ducks have "seen a lot of dirty plays, throwing people around after plays." Chizik stuck up for the Lombardi Award winner. He says if an offense can't block a guy his size, "sometimes he's going to be very aggressive and people are going to get hurt." Officials in Monday night's BCS national championship game might be keeping a close eye on Fairley
The defensive tackle had a standout game as Oregon was seemingly unable to block him. He finished with five tackles (three for loss), a sack and a forced fumble, and was part of a key fourth-and-1 goal-line stop late in the third quarter that saved a touchdown. But while Fairley has become known as a force, he's also become known as a dirty player, and validated those accusations with a shove to LaMichael James' head that earned a 15-yard personal foul flag.
There's no question that Nick Fairley has just earned the right to be considered a possible top-5 pick in the upcoming draft. There's also no question that the Bengals are in need of a defensive lineman. The question that does exist is whether or not the Bengals need for a defensive lineman outweighs their need for a safety, a No. 1 wide receiver, offensive linemen, a running back (if the Bengals don't re-sign Cedric Benson), a cornerback (if the Bengals don't resign Johnathan Joseph) or a quarterback (if the Bengals decide to blind side everybody).
Now that Andrew Luck, who many believed would be the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, has decided to stay at Stanford for his senior season, Fairley could have used the national championship game to allow his draft stock to rise to a possible No. 1 pick. Any team who is looking to build their defensive line may be salivating after Fairley's performance in Monday's game.