By Tom E. Curran
Some of the most enduring memories from drafts past are the guys who slid. Whether it was Aaron Rodgers rotting in the green room, Brady Quinn canoodling with an increasingly disinterested blond, or Tom Brady walking through his neighborhood with a baseball bat, the guys who drop often become more fascinating than the guys who get picked. And there are three players this year who could take the unwelcome plunge - Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, Alabama's Mark Ingram and Auburn's Nick Fairley. All three guys could have entertained thoughts of being top five picks at one point. But as the draft looms, there's a growing sense that all could drop precipitously. Start with Bowers. The 6-4, 280-pounder led the nation with 15.5 sacks last year. But I'm hearing there are concerns that his kneehas limited timebefore he'll need major surgery. With a kid whose weight fluctuates drastically and who plays an interior defensive line (or 3-4 end) position, this could be a chronic issue.
My compadre TimGraham at ESPN.com did a mock draft and he had the Patriots taking Bowers with the 17th pick. Even though Bowers is a good kid and potentially great player,at 17, he'stoo big a dice roll with those knee concerns. Especially with a defensive line class that is as good as any Bill Belichick has ever seen. Then there's Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2009 when he ran for 1,658 yards. His left knee was slow to fully recover from athroscopic surgery last August. There's concern it could be an ongoing trouble spot - though concerns about him aren't nearly as high as they are for Bowers. During the draft process, he's seen his stock fall to the point where it's been speculated he could drop to the second round. The Patriots have been sweet on Ingram for a while. Sweet enough to take him at 17 when they could get him at 28 or even 33? Probably not. Finally, there's Fairley. There is no smoking-gun reason for people to be apprehensive about the massive and athletically gifted wrecking ball. He hasn't been arrested, there are no reports of positive drug tests. But there's a perception he's not a hard-worker and can be immature and irresponsible. He reportedly blew off a dinner with the Miami Dolphins in March. The Titans are a possible landing spot for Fairley at No. 8. ESPN's Paul Kuharsky, the AFC South blogger, spoke to scouts recently about Fairley and asked them if he was as temperamental as Albert Haynesworth. The consensus was that Fairley was nothing like Haynesworth. He was just very, well . . . Southern. Fairley is more happy-go-lucky, hes not Haynesworth, the scout told Kuharsky. Albert played with a huge chip on his shoulder, like everybody was against him. This kid, when he hits the field, yeah, no question hes a competitive son of a gun. But hes not Albert . . .
I think Fairley clearly has a chance to be a special player. Youve got to remember, hes a Southern, Southern kid. Hes a bayou-type kid. The Titans had a guy like defensive end Antwan Odom, who was a bayou kid -- it can be misconstrued as not having a passion. But I dont think thats the case. I think this kid is a fun-loving type of kid whos silly.
Yeah, hes going to make mistakes. Are they going to be glaring or things done on purpose? His mistakes are going to come out of, pardon the expression, ignorance, just not knowing. License registration and stuff like that -- 'Oh, I didnt even know I had to register my car.'
To me, he's as dynamic a defensive lineman as any guy in this draft. And if he's sitting there at 17 - or within hailing distance of 17 - the Patriots should make a move to get him.