Fairley, the Lombardi Award winner as the nation’s outstanding lineman, said Friday that he has declared for the NFL draft.
"I was thinking, 'What more could I accomplish my senior year?'" said Fairley, who announced his decision at Williamson High School in his hometown of Mobile.
A junior college transfer who played only sparingly in a reserve role as a sophomore, Fairley finished his junior season with 60 tackles, including a single-season school record 24 tackles for loss to go with 11.5 quarterback sacks.
He was a dominant force on defense for the 14-0, BCS national champion Tigers, who capped their unbeaten season with a 22-19 victory over Oregon on Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Fairley had five tackles including three for loss and a sack in the championship victory over Oregon, earning defensive MVP honors.
"Nick emerged into a very dominate player this season and was a key factor for the success of our championship run," said Auburn coach Gene Chizik in a statement released by the Auburn athletic department. "His ability to control the line of scrimmage was truly amazing. We know that Nick loves Auburn, but this decision is in the best interest of him and his family. We wish him well as he takes the next step in his football career and life."
Fairley was a consensus All-American in 2010 and was selected as the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press.
Some draft analysts say the 6-5, 315-pound Fairley could be the No. 1 pick in the April draft.
ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have Fairley going No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers.
"It's crazy for me to be in this position," Fairley said. "Coming into this year, I didn't think things were going to be this big. I didn't know I was going to have a big year like that."