Auburn DT Nick Fairley's draft stock had been slipping in the eyes of some for days now. Reports that he blew off a meeting with the Dolphins brass, including GM Jeff Ireland, won't help with whispers about his attitude. Falling draft stock means another one-time top three pick is again in the conversation for the St. Louis Rams and their 14th pick in the middle of the first round.
Earlier today, that conversation focused on Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers, who may or may not have a very serious knee injury. One pundit put Bowers to the Rams in a mock draft. An injured player is one kind of risky pick; a player with character red flags to match his talent is an entirely different matter...as the Rams have experience in the past.
Adam Caplan at Fox Sports released a 2011 mock draft that speculated an even further fall for Fairley's draft stock, predicting his fall all the way to the 19th spot in the draft. (The same mock had the Rams picking Cam Jordan...pass). Our own community mock had Fairley dropping all the way to the Vikings at #12.
Some of this could easily be the fog of war that seeps out during the days ahead of the draft, usually on purpose However, it's not like this is the first time commitment and character issues have swirled around the Auburn defensive tackle. Rob Rang reports today that teams told him similar things about Fairley at the Combine, one team official calling him a "JUCO kid to the core."
Sometimes incurring eye rolls, sometimes frustration, the Rams have used their "four pillars" approach to build a strong young core for a rebuilding team. Last year, GM Billy Devaney showed some willingness to compromise on that a little bit, courting Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson when he was, technically, on the market last fall. With cornerstone players like Steven Jackson, Sam Bradford, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, etc., you can make the case that the Rams have a secure enough foundation in place to take their chance on a player with character red flags, depending on what those red flags are.
I think the Rams are in a place where they can step outside their comfort zone on those issues. Nick Fairley certainly possesses some very talent. Were he really to fall this far in the draft, the Rams would have to consider him, based on his talent and their own need for a legitimate three-technique defensive tackle.
On the other hand, first-round picks don't exactly rain from the heavens every year. The Rams have come a long way since the dark days of just a few years ago, but they are not far enough along to blow a first round pick. Free agents are a little different. A miss in free agency, as long as a team is using free agents to augment a roster put together mostly through the draft, can be absorbed easier...except on the balance sheet.
First of all, I don't have to make the Rams draft picks. You and I do have to suffer through the busts as fans, like we did for most of the last ten years. I also don't have all the information about Fairley. Sitting through his media session at the Combine lacks the intimacy of the team interviews and doesn't give you enough information to make an assessment about a guy's character. For the record, Fairley didn't strike me as arrogant or lackadaisical about the event and his shot at a pro career. It's hard for me to say I'd pass on him in the draft.
If these reports are true, teams should have deep reservations. And if they do draft him, they better be sure of their ability to mold young minds as well as football skills. Can the Rams do that? Is it even worth the investment of time needed to mold a player like that?