KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In an NFL Draft deep with talented offensive linemen, the Chiefs made quite a statement with the first overall pick Thursday night in bypassing the ones from larger schools and selecting tackle Eric Fisher of Central Michigan.
The Chiefs showed no fear in making a Mid-American Conference player the No. 1 pick for the first time.
“You wanted to come out with what you felt was the best player and that’s what we did,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We made the evaluation. We went and visited him. We watched all of his workouts. We watched their games. Eric had an opportunity to play against Iowa and Michigan State, which are large schools.
“I know the caliber of football player that plays in the MAC and that’s good football. People look at it as a lower level, but they compete against everybody and they win a lot of games. There’s been some great players to come out of that conference and here’s another one. I will tell you whatever he was presented with — he had the Senior Bowl in there — whatever he was presented, he played well and so we went off of that.”
The Chiefs project the 6-foot-7, 306-pound Fisher to be their left tackle and protector of quarterback Alex Smith’s blind side over the long term. His immediate future is clouded by the presence of left tackle Branden Albert, who has been the subject of trade talks with the Miami Dolphins but still remains property of the Chiefs as their franchise player.
Trade talks with Miami were put on hold Thursday. They could resume Friday in advance of the second and third rounds but they are complicated by the fact the Dolphins on Thursday traded away the first of their two second-round selections (No. 42 overall) and their first-round pick (No. 12) to Oakland for the No. 3 pick.
After trading up, Miami drafted Oregon linebacker Dion Jordan. The Chiefs are without a second-round pick after trading it to San Francisco to acquire Smith. They’re scheduled to pick 63rd and 96th overall in Round 3 on Friday. The Dolphins hold the No. 54 overall pick.
If the Chiefs fail to trade Albert, Fisher could begin his career as a right tackle.
“I don’t know that yet,” Reid said when asked where Fisher would play. “That doesn’t bother me where he plays because he’s a good football player. We’ll take the five best guys and put them up there, and position really doesn’t matter to me.
“You can’t have enough good offensive linemen. You can’t win without offensive linemen. You can’t win without defensive linemen. That’s just the way the games works. You’ve got to be strong in those positions. I understand the importance of that. That’s what we need here. We’ve got a good nucleus now and we needed to add and we were able to do that.”
Fisher was so lightly recruited out of high school in Rochester, Mich., that only Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan offered a scholarship.
But he bloomed late. The Chiefs started to zero in on Fisher as their selection two weeks ago, and even though three of the first four picks in the draft were tackles, he was the top choice.
“It was a phone call I’ll never forget,” Fisher said of getting word from the Chiefs shortly before his selection was announced. “What an honor. So many great players have been the first pick and you can throw me in with the bunch now.”
Fisher is destined to be compared to Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, the other top tackle available in the draft. The Chiefs considered Joeckel for their pick as well.
The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Joeckel immediately after the Chiefs selected Fisher. After Jordan was picked third, the Eagles drafted Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson fourth overall.
In an interesting twist, the Chiefs play against the Jaguars in the Sept. 8 season opener in Jacksonville.
In the end, the Chiefs believed Fisher was a superior athlete and could help in more ways than Joeckel.
“Both of them are fine football players,” Reid said. “I’m not going to sit here and compare them. Obviously we felt strongly about Eric. We liked his athletic ability and his overall makeup. We thought he’d be a good fit.”
The Chiefs have picked players from non-power conference schools in the first round before. Last year, they selected nose tackle Dontari Poe of Memphis. In 2000, it was wide receiver Sylvester Morris of Jackson State.
The difference is that Fisher is the No. 1 pick. But Reid said Fisher’s smaller-school background wouldn’t hold him back.
“He doesn’t mind a challenge,” Reid said. “He’s not going to shy away from that.
“He has enough confidence in his ability to know he can play against anybody. He’s not going to run from it. That’s just not his makeup. You have to be tough to play that position in this league. It’s not an easy spot to play. You’re going to be challenged every week.”