Could Nick Fairley be headed for a position change? It’s a possibility. Early this off-season Sean Payton made it clear that changes would be coming to the Saints’ defense, especially in the front seven. Based on the team’s needs and the personnel now available to the coaching staff there could be a change coming for Fairley.
One of Payton’s priorities for the off-season was to improve the team’s pass rush. To that end they signed Fairley in free agency and drafted Sheldon Rankins out of Louisville and David Onyemata from Manitoba. While these moves went a long way toward improving the defensive line’s interior pass rush, there’s still no solid answer on the outside opposite Cameron Jordan. Fairley could fill that void.
While Fairley has the physical build of a defensive tackle, he has the speed of a defensive end. Rankins, Onyemata, John Jenkins and Tyeler Davison all run 40 times of more than 5 seconds. Fairley clocks in right around 4.8 seconds. That puts him roughly a tenth of a second behind pass rushers Jordon and Obum Gwacham. If Fairley can maintain a weight around 290 (give or take about 5 pounds), he should fit in nicely on the outside.
Pairing Fairley with Jordan on the outside would give the Saints a pass rush threat from both ends of the defensive line. With Gwacham and Bobby Richardson backing them up and rotating in at times, the defensive end position should be relatively secure. Moving Fairley outside would also create opportunities in the middle of the defensive line as well. The position shift would leave an interior four-man rotation of Rankins, Jenkins, Davison and Onyemata. With one less man in the group, the opportunities for Onyemata to see time on the field increase. The more in-game experience he sees, the quicker his transition to the pros should go.
While shifting Fairley is not an option that has been discussed yet, it makes sense. The Saints need a pass rush threat opposite Jordan. Of the players currently on the roster, Fairley is as close as it gets to a perfect fit for the role. With the draft in the rear view mirror and free agent market already picked over, it’s an idea worth taking a look at.