There's no doubt Eric Fisher feels the pressure. He should. It comes with the turf.
As the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL Draft, Fisher will be held to a higher standard than any other player from his draft class. Unfortunately, the first year for the Central Michigan product was middling for the most part -- as the rookie struggled to adapt to the speed and skill of the pro game as well as the opposite side of the offensive line. The team knew a learning curve was needed, and Fisher indeed needed this first season to acclimate.
Despite the on-field struggles, Fisher definitely flashed the potential that the Chiefs saw in the months leading up to the NFL Draft. Fisher was a small school prospect that jumped over other potential top tackles like Luke Joeckel (who went No. 2 overall), Lane Johnson (No. 4) or even D.J. Fluker (No. 11). And with a full year under his belt including an offseason training with the team, the Chiefs can expect Fisher to make a leap in 2014.
While it's a safe assumption that Fisher will get better, the question looms of just how much. Will he become a staple among the league's elite? That's the expectation for a top pick, yet the first-year impact leaves some room for doubt. The good news is that a survey of similar prospects shows that Fisher's ceiling is likely as high as the Chiefs initially believed.
Over the last 10 draft classes, seven offensive tackles have been taken from smaller schools in the first three rounds. These prospects come with question marks considering the level of competition they played against. Were they simply larger fish in a small pond or true prospects. For the most part, the results have been very solid. Here's an overview:
Michael Roos - Eastern Washington - Titans - 2nd (2005)
It certainly helped Michael Roos to have Mike Munchak for a mentor, but the former Division I-AA Offensive Lineman of the Year has been a rock at left tackle for reasons of his own. The highly intelligent lineman is a three-time All Pro and remains among the NFL's best at 30-years-old. At the time of his selection, he was the highest D1-AA player ever taken.
Outcome: Ideal. An elite tackle who will end up as one of the franchise's best linemen ever.
Joe Staley - Central Michigan - 49ers - 1st (2007)
The most direct comparison for Eric Fisher since both attended CMU, were first-round picks and adjusted to the pro level on the right side in their rookie season. Staley was the 28th overall selection in 2007 and the 49ers paid a high price to trade back up in the first round with the Patriots to get him. The early results were promising yet inconsistent (sound familiar?), but Staley has made three straight Pro Bowls and has become another elite left tackle. No doubt the Niners make this trade again.
Outcome: Ideal (again). If Fisher follows Staley's growth curve, the Chiefs will be lauded for the choice.
John Greco - Toledo - Rams - 3rd (2008)
Greco was a third-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2008, and the early results weren't pretty. He remained a back-up until he was traded to the Cleveland Browns just before the 2011 season for a seventh round pick. Talk about a steal. Greco apparently just needed time and the right training for his technique to catch up with his massive size. He's been a three-year starter for the Browns and the team recently rewarded him with a new four-year extension before the 2013 season.
Outcome: Very solid. Needed some time to acclimate to pro game, but the Browns' patience was duly rewarded.
Robert Brewster - Ball St - Cowboys - 3rd (2009)
The MAC has produced several of these prospects, and Robert Brewster was the conference's offering (from Ball State) in the 2009 NFL Draft. The Cowboys took Brewster in the third round, but the selection never panned out. He was released halfway through the 2010 season, which says something since the Cowboys' line during those seasons was a total mess.
Outcome: Bust. Injuries didn't help, but this was an obvious waste.
Jared Veldheer - Hillsdale - Raiders - 3rd (2010)
From the mighty Hillsdale Chargers (Division II school), Jared Veldheer was the Raiders' third-round gamble in the 2010 NFL Draft. The move paid off as the Raiders installed Veldheer as their cornerstone tackle with positive results. Last year was a frustrating season for Veldheer due to a triceps injury that limited him to the last five games of the season. He's currently a free agent, but there's little doubt the Raiders will find a way to keep him.
Outcome: Very solid. Veldheer keeps getting better and was a (rare) worthy gamble for Al Davis.
Benjamin Ijalana - Villanova - Colts - 2nd (2011)
Just like Veldheer the year before, the Colts took a risk in the second round on promising small-school prospect Ben Ijalana in 2011. The Villanova product was heralded for his size and athleticism, but unfortunately injuries took their toll in his first two years with the team. After successive torn ACLs, the Colts released him, and the New York Jets stepped in with a waiver claim. He's currently a back-up on the Jets roster.
Outcome: Incomplete. The injuries don't bode well for the lineman, but it's too early to call this a bust.
Amini Silatolu - Midwestern State (Tx) - Panthers - 4th (2012)
The only player ever selected from Midwestern State (Division II), Silatolu instantly earned playing time on the interior for the Carolina Panthers in 2012. After starting 15 games his rookie season, Silatolu was sidelined with a torn ACL after the first three games of the 2013 season. Was named to the Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie team in 2012.
Outcome: Solid. Will be interesting to see how he comes back, but Silatolu looks like a long-term starter inside.
Conclusion: Unless injuries take their toll or something disastrous happens, the worst-case scenario for the Chiefs is that Eric Fisher ends up as a solid long-term starter at left tackle. The track record for small school prospects shows that the learning curve is in place for a bit, but pro scouts are usually on target when it comes to projected ceilings. If the Chiefs loved Fisher's potential, then fans should trust that initial report. The most likely outcome is that Fisher develops into a dynamic cornerstone on the left side.
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