As we reported here during our Senior Bowl coverage, we found out in Mobile an interesting, maybe huge, fact about a top junior in the class of 2011 NFL Draft. He happened to live in Mobile, Alabama, home of the Senior Bowl.
But unlike many prospects playing football that week and improving their draft stock, a simple connection may lead to a sharp fall in that junior's draft stock.
Nick Fairley has long been considered a top NFL Draft prospect since around mid-season of Auburn's run to the title game. At times this season he's been as important as Heisman trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton (See Alabama, LSU, Oregon), which speaks to both his ability to play well in crucial games as well as the value of a great defensive tackle.
So, being the top defensive tackle in the country on the best team in the country in the best conference in the NCAA in the biggest spotlights of the college football season? Sounds like at least a step in the right direction in terms of draft stock.
And thanks to his skill set and Warren Sapp comparisons, he's projected to go as high as Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy went last season: The Top 3, including the favorite to be the top overall pick in Carolina's new head coach Ron Rivera's system.
But, as NFL teams do their homework on all the top players, especially the guys they are considering investing tens of millions of dollars to in the first round, they may find some things they don't like about Fairley. And odds are, they won't be athleticism issues.
Back in Mobile, as I was traveling the car with my taxi driver, Shelton, fro Royalty Taxi, he pointed out, surprisingly to me, Nick Fairley's house. And shortly after, he pointed out another house not even a block away. The house was JaMarcus Russell's childhood home.
He said that his son, who died in a driveby shooting in high school, Jamarcus, and Nick were great friends growing up, all going to the same high school and playing on the same football team at one point. Shelton's wife is JaMarcus's godmother.
I learned soon that Fairley and Russell were best of friends throughout JaMarcus's time in high school and throughout LSU, and only after he was drafted and things began to spiral down to what would be an unfortunately quick ending. Throughout their friendship, Fairley looked up to Russell as almost a big brother, and talked to JaMarcus throughout his struggles with academics, as Fairley needed to attend a junior college to raise his grades.
So, while Russell is still pursuing a comeback (according to my source, the Dolphins are at least very willing to give him a tryout) the tie between the two players could be a blow to the newest top projected draft pick.
Could Nick Fairley fall for the same temptations that JaMarcus did? Will he display the same "lazy" attitude off the field and not work to develop the vast potential that he has? Has his goal been to just make it to the NFL, not to be a star in it like many speculated was the case with JaMarcus?
It's too early to tell, and I think teams will have to do their digging to get into the mind of Nick Fairley. Also, keep in mind that he only has had one very productive season, this year, and his lack of consistency could make him, in some eyes, a one year wonder.
Add that to the fact that he has had some "dirty player" issues and some questionable on the field character concerns and now these JaMarcus Russell ties, and Nick Fairley may not be the shoe-in for number one after all.