Sack Lunch: Examining the Special Traits of Nick Fairley

Every Wednesday at noon EST, Jon Ledyard will be releasing a new installment that we are calling Sack Lunch. Each article will take a look at a particularly impressive pass-rushing performance from the past weekend’s games, highlighting techniques, moves, or athletic traits that brought each player success. In the first installment, Jon looks at the special traits of Nick Fairley, highlighting a sack against the Houston Texans.

When rookie Sheldon Rankins went down with a broken fibula this past week, Saints fans were once again forced to envision their much-maligned defense without a game-changing presence in the middle. Rankins, my 7th overall player in the draft, was drafted to give this Saints team an every-down presence who had the skill set to be dynamic against the run and the pass, something the team has been missing for several seasons now. With the Louisville product sidelined at least six weeks, the Saints are once again in the unenviable position of needing help on the interior defensive line.

However, a forgotten playmaker still exists on their roster in the form of former Lions and Rams defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Injuries, attitude / effort issues, and inconsistency have marred the talented defender’s up-and-down career, but when Fairley is locked in and focused on football, few can match his combination of explosive athleticism and eye-popping power.

Texans guard Xavier Su’a-Filo found this out the hard way when Fairley bullied him for a sack on Saturday. Your prototypical one-gapping 3 technique, Fairley positions himself in his ideal alignment here over the guard’s outside shoulder. After firing off the ball, Fairley immediately wins first contact by getting his hands inside and obtaining chest control.

Fairley Image #1

Because Su’a-Filo’s punch is wide, leaving his frame exposed, the guard is now at the mercy of Fairley’s next move. Knowing this, the veteran defensive tackle utilizes a brilliant push-pull maneuver to displace his opponent and create an open path to the quarterback.

Fairley clears Su’a-Filo’s hands with a swift swim move, drawing the attention of center Greg Mancz, who had been doubling the 1 technique with the right guard. Fairley stays skinny through the gap however, and all Mancz can do is land a feeble strike to his back before attempting to hold the defender. Fairley’s athleticism takes over though, showing remarkable bend for a 310-pound man to turn a tight corner to Brock Osweiler for the sack.

Fairley Image #2

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Fairley has always had remarkable physical and athletic traits, but very seldom has he been able to reach his full potential on the field. If defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and head coach Sean Payton can find a way to consistently motivate the sixth-year defensive lineman, Fairley could be a significant contributor within a Saints’ scheme that adheres very well to his skill set.

Follow Jon on Twitter @LedyardNFLDraft. Check out his article on impact running backs from the 2016 Draft Class.

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All video courtesy of NFL Game Pass.

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