KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tackles Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are two of the favorites to be selected by the Chiefs with the first pick in this year’s draft.
But each arrived at this point via a different path.
Joeckel was supposed to be a top-shelf prospect. He was the big-time recruit who turned down offers from dozens of major colleges before settling on Texas A&M.
Fisher, meanwhile, is a late-riser who went to Central Michigan because it was the best offer he received.
So they are unlikely competitors for a prize that ultimately may be meaningless but now seems huge, even to Joeckel, whose assignments last year included blocking against some of the country’s top defenders in the Southeastern Conference as the main protector of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
“It would be really cool, a dream come true,” Joeckel said. “But the way I’m just looking at it, I want to get there. I am definitely striving to be the number-one pick, going through this entire process and playing this season and all that kind of stuff. But my dream is to just play in the NFL.
“I know, being the number-one pick, after that, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve got to go prove yourself in the NFL. It’s just like that in college. Being the number-one recruit in college doesn’t matter (when) you step on that campus. It’s the same thing. It’s cool and everything, but going to any team I go (to), proving myself there will be the biggest thing.”
If being picked by the Chiefs is a big priority for Joeckel, it’s even more so for Fisher. He played not against the All-Americans, as Joeckel did, but against lesser opponents from the Mid-American Conference.
Fisher entered the discussion for the number-one pick only by showing well against top competition at the Senior Bowl in January.
“That would be a huge, huge honor and obviously a dream complete, and it would just open up another dream for me,” Fisher said. “But anybody who would give me the chance to play football, I’d really appreciate it and I’d definitely work real hard to be successful on their team.
“I’m working to be the number-one tackle. That’s not up to me, in the end. That’s up to coaches and general managers, but that’s what I’m working for.”
There’s not much separating the two players in terms of talent. Both are skilled pass protectors. Fisher is generally considered a slightly better run-blocker, but that may not matter as much to new Chiefs coach Andy Reid, to whom pass-blocking is paramount.
In his latest mock draft, analyst Mel Kiper has the Chiefs going with Joeckel ... though he acknowledged it wasn’t an easy decision, even for him.
“I’ve gone back and forth on these two,” Kiper said. “I gave them a similar grade. I gave the edge to Joeckel just because of the level of competition week in and week out. If Fisher had any issues, it was against the lesser opponents, which was a crazy thing. When he had to rise up and go against better opposition, he did a great job. His Senior Bowl week was phenomenal.
“You’re splitting hairs. One day you like one better, the next day you like the other better. I think Kansas City is probably going through that themselves.”
The selection of either player is likely for the Chiefs considering the unsettled situation surrounding Branden Albert, their starting left tackle. The Chiefs are reportedly trying to trade Albert, their franchise player. He didn’t report last week for the opening of the team’s voluntary offseason conditioning program.
If their decision is indeed between Joeckel against Fisher, it may come down to the personal preferences of Reid and Chiefs general manager John Dorsey.
Joeckel is athletic enough that he was a quarterback until he reached high school, when he outgrew the position. His twin brother, Matt, is still a quarterback at Texas A&M.
“I love offensive line,” Joeckel said. “Growing up, I always thought I was too athletic for the position.
“The offensive line is what I was born to play. I loved the physical aspect of it. You finish every play with a one-on-one block. There are not many other positions on the field like that. I love that part of it. I’m a background guy, and that’s why I belong on the offensive line.”
NFL scouts have long been aware of Fisher. Even then, he had to prove himself at the Senior Bowl to get them interested after playing at a lower-level program like Central Michigan.
“The Senior Bowl was absolutely huge for me,” Fisher said. “I knew what I had to do to impress a lot of people and cancel all the doubt in people’s minds at the Senior Bowl, so I went down there with a little chip on my shoulder on a mission to prove to a lot of people who Eric Fisher is and what he’s made of.
“I think a lot has to do with coming from a small school. That’s the mentality of small-school guys, because a lot of people don’t hear about them until you get to this level, like pretty much what happened to me. ... I think I have a lot of room to improve. I definitely don’t think I’ve played my best football. I still have a lot to grow into my body.”