ALLEN PARK, MICH. (AP) - The Detroit Lions started to turn around the franchise last year with an improved defensive line.
And it just got better.
Detroit drafted Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley with the No. 13 pick in the NFL draft Thursday night. They already have defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the only rookie on The Associated Press All-Pro team, along with veteran standouts Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams.
“Playing with Suh is going to be an honor,” Fairley said. “He was the rookie of the year on the defensive side of the ball. Their defense is relentless, especially the defensive line.”
The Lions have finally started to roll in the Motor City, closing last season with four wins and a 6-10 record two years after being the NFL’s first 0-16 team. Suh was a big reason, and Detroit chose to beef up perhaps its strongest unit.
“The idea is, we’re drafting to our strength,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “Being good up front is what drives our defense.”
The 6-foot-4, 298-pound Fairley entered the draft after winning the Lombardi Award as a junior with the Tigers. The native of Mobile, Ala., was once projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick.
His stock seeped to slip because of questions about his work ethic.
“I spent a lot of time with him,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. “He’s a good player, a good person. He’ll fit in here well.”
Detroit’s biggest voids seem to be at cornerback and linebacker, but Schwartz doesn’t seem to be worried about those weaknesses.
“You can also make mistakes this time of year if you worry too much about those,” Schwartz said.
The Lions ruled out taking a quarterback with their first-round pick after taking Matthew Stafford No. 1 overall two years ago. Stafford has been injured and out of many games.
The Lions have one pick each in the second and third rounds Friday night and slots in fourth, fifth and seventh rounds Saturday.
Detroit’s success in this draft, though, will be tied to how Fairley fares.
Fairley had 11 1/2 sacks last season and a total of 24 stops behind the line for the national champion Tigers.
“He’s an impact player at an impact position,” Schwartz said. “He dominated games at times _ a lot like Ndamukong Suh dominated games. Turn the national championship game on, this guy was the best on the field.”
Schwartz insisted there will be enough playing time to go around.
“If we’re rotating three guys, they’re playing 45 snaps,” he said. “We can keep rolling waves. Ndamukong Suh probably played too much for us last year, too many snaps. You’re taking on 700 pounds of man every time you take on a double-team.”
Fairley has had private interviews with Denver (No. 2 pick), Buffalo (3), Cincinnati (4), Cleveland (6), Tennessee (8) and Washington (10), along with an under-the-radar chat with the Lions last week.
“I didn’t know how it was going to go,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen on draft day.”
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