INDIANAPOLIS — Two of the most coveted prospects at the NFL combine cannot escape comparison.
They are versatile and capable of immediately boosting an NFL defense, according to most NFL experts.
They’ve wrestled with the national spotlight, both finishing with monster performances in the last two national championship games.
Of course, they also happen to represent opposite sides of arguably the most bitter rivalry in college sports. And in the same manner many fans will debate Auburn vs. Alabama, NFL teams will argue over Mobile’s Nick Fairley and Birmingham’s Marcell Dareus.
One question on some minds is if they have proven themselves at the college level.
“Every year there’s a lot of players that you say they only had one good year … now sometimes it’s because of the situation, sometimes it’s because of the people in front of them,” Denver Broncos general manager Brian Xanders said. “Marcell Dareus, he had three good players in front of him last year, he was playing well, but he was a one-year starter. Fairley was a one-year starter. But there’s been success stories.”
One of those is Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who worked his way from walk-on at USC to scholarship player to NFL star. In his second year, he helped the Packers to a Super Bowl.
Auburn’s Fairley (6-4, 391) and Alabama’s Dareus (6-3, 319) were among those who left school early for the NFL. Both are projected top-10 draft picks.
Auburn defender Nick Fairley (90) pressures Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett (15) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Fairley, who was unavailable for comment Saturday, flourished in 2010, winning the Lombardi Award thanks to 56 tackles, 12 sacks and an interception. He ranked third nationally with tackles for loss (1.71 per game). Some project him as the No. 1 pick in April’s draft.
Dareus had a complicated year following his breakout performance in the Crimson Tide’s win over Texas for the 2009 national championship.
“That game really put me out there,” Dareus said. “It helped me make a name for myself in college.”
But 2010 was rough. First, his mother died. Then Dareus was suspended two games for receiving improper benefits. Once he returned, an ankle injury dogged him throughout the season. Dareus also coped with the death of Mississippi State’s Nick Bell, a hometown friend.
As one of seven siblings (six boys, one girl), Dareus said he left school early to help his family financially.