The 6-foot-4, 298-pound Fairley entered the draft after winning the Lombardi Award as a junior with the Tigers.
The native of Mobile, Ala., was once projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick. His stock seeped to slip because of questions about his work ethic.
With the top pick in the draft, the Carolina Panthers selected Fairley's teammate at Auburn, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton.
A year after going 2-14 with the NFL's worst offense, the Panthers bypassed safer choices such as Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Georgia receiver A.J. Green for Newton, who dazzled in his only season playing major college football.
"He has special qualities," general manager Marty Hurney said. "We've had a strong feeling for some time that he was the person who we felt could come in and have the most impact on our football team."