This is the Fairley the Lions hoped to get when they drafted him in the first round in 2011, and this is the Fairley they hoped would show up when they declined his fifth-year option for next season, putting him in a contract year this season.
He’s turned into an anchor on the defensive line for Detroit, a player who commands attention even though he plays next to All-Pro Ndamukong Suh. Fairley is on pace to at least match his career-high in tackles (35 in 2012) with 11 stops through five games.
While he may not have the eye-popping statistics, Fairley has yet to miss a game -- only the second time in four years he has played in all of the first five games for the Lions. When he’s been in, he’s been effective.
He joins Suh as the only defensive players on Detroit to grade out positively in both run defense and pass rush, according to Pro Football Focus. His eight quarterback hurries, according to PFF, are fifth in the league among defensive tackles and second on the Lions behind Suh, who leads all defensive tackles with 13.
“He’s been really diligent in terms of taking care of himself and doing the things that we’ve asked him to do,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s got his weight down to where he’s most effective, I think. Not only that, he’s enjoying himself, and he’s having a very fine year.
“Active. Disruptive and really full of energy. We’ve been pleased with his progress.”
A lot of that has to do with his reduced weight -- something he says will likely never dip under around 300 pounds because of his own eating habits and his workouts. He’s been much smarter and more careful about what he’s eating -- hence the chef -- but he does admit he has cheat days with his diet.
All of this leads to the two biggest questions when it comes to Fairley. Can he keep it up? And how does this change his contract situation, especially with Suh’s uncertainty?
He said he’s not thinking about his contract at all, but when asked whether he feels he’s played well enough to earn a new deal, he paused.
“I will say my play has been more consistent,” Fairley said. “I’ll say that.”
That’s what the Detroit Lions have wanted all along.