Rookie Review: Chiefs Need to Stay Patient With Their Top Pick Offensive Tackle Eric Fisher

Eric FisherThe Chiefs have gotten off to a surprisingly impressive start, currently one of the league’s two remaining undefeated teams. Much of that is thanks to new additions. Andy Reid and the offensive staff have been able to maximize the talent they inherited. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has gotten the most out of potential Pro Bowlers Eric Berry and Dontari Poe, and quarterback Alex Smith has run a conservative offense that’s reduced turnovers.

But the team’s most notable acquisition this off-season was the first player drafted by the new Chiefs regime, No. 1 overall pick offensive tackle Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan. While his in-season struggles continued this past weekend against the Raiders, the Chiefs are wise to be patient with the talented rookie.

Fisher’s game this past weekend marked his fifth  full game in a Chiefs uniform this year, after he missed the last game and a half with a concussion. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Fisher grades out as the 6th worst offensive tackle in the NFL (among those who have played at least 60% of their team’s snaps). By comparison, fellow first round tackles Luke Joeckel (47th out of 58), Lane Johnson (51st), and DJ Fluker (26th) haven’t been dominating either, according to the PFF grades.

However, Fisher has still displayed the elite talent level and upside that allowed him to rise through the draft process to end as the 1st overall pick. Here’s an excerpt on Fisher from our 2013 NFL Draft scouting report:

“Thanks to his lateral quickness, balance and body control on the edge, Fisher is a Top 10 prospect that can develop into an elite left tackle. He has an outstanding combination of size, knee bend, flexibility, balance and body control. Among his few flaws: Fisher didn't faced elite competition.”

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The lack of great college competition may be the cause of his slower-than-expected development this year as a rookie.

In his game against Oakland last weekend, Fisher displayed flashes of everything that made him a top prospect. And while it’s more beneficial to highlight the areas he struggled, it’s important to note that Fisher hasn’t been all bad this year.

Specifically, Fisher has shown the ability to extend inside with plus hand placement, and then re-adjust after first engagement. Against laterally quick rushers, Fisher showed the ability to kick smooth outside and in when he diagnosed the rush correctly initially, mirroring well against rushers trying to counter inside. And he met and engaged with good body positioning against initial or delayed blitzers.

While these three plays below were the three worst of the game for Fisher, it’s more important to take note of where he can make key corrections. The Chiefs have remained patient with Fisher despite his early season struggles, and it’s clear that the mistakes he’s making aren’t ones he’ll make once he becomes more comfortable in the NFL.

Play #1 – Fisher Bull Rushed By Linebacker Sio Moore
On the first play of the game, Fisher (at right tackle) was exposed immediately by fellow rookie Sio Moore. Moore, lined up as a stand-up rusher, explodes right into Fisher, getting lower than him and driving him back initially. Fisher, who tried to meet with his hands and ended up losing leverage far too quickly, allowed for Moore to drive him back into the pocket almost immediately and get the sack on Alex Smith.

Fisher certainly has the knee bend and lower body strength to prevent this from happening. But as he’s done in each of his past NFL starts, Fisher struggled early on, not appearing acclimated to the speed of the game right from the snap. Combine this with the fact that Moore is one of the most explosive rookie pass rushers, and it was a recipe for disaster on the first snap.

Play #2 – Fisher Misreads His Assignment Pre-Snap, Lets Rusher Free
On this play, the Raiders put six defenders on the line of scrimmage, meaning that the Chiefs keep their tight end (on Fisher’s side) in to block. Fisher, anticipating the linebacker (#58) over-top of him to rush and not the defensive back (#29), lets the rusher lined up on his inside shoulder (#94) nearly free into the backfield.

While it’s unclear if this is a misread by the offensive line or if it’s simply on Fisher,  it’s certainly was a costly mistake that forced the Chiefs into a 3rd and long situation. Fisher has had some misreads and poor recognition issues throughout this game, but that likely points to his need for more snaps and more comfort in the offense, and not any long-term problems.

Play #3 – Fisher Gets Too Wide As He Slides Out, Loses Balance
Working on a tag-team block with his guard Jon Asamoah as the two Raiders pass rushers work a stunt rush on their side. While Asamoah does a very good job driving his initial block well and transferring to the stunting defensive end, Fisher does little to help his teammate, barely getting a hand on either rusher and eventually losing balance, all thanks to far too wide of a base and letting the outside-attacking rusher get underneath him.

Fisher has Asamoah to thank on this impressive block transfer, but Fisher shouldn’t be driven to the ground as easily as he was. Fisher seemed over-anxious to attack with his hands at times through this game, and that along with not being comfortable on stunt blocks allowed for his issues here.

Conclusion
These three plays highlight the fact that Eric Fisher isn’t at the level of other starting offensive tackles in the NFL at this point in the season. But that’s not an unexpected reaction for a rookie offensive tackle. The Chiefs have appeared to be patient with Fisher’s development, giving him every snap possible when he’s been healthy and allowing to learn from his mistakes.

Fisher was well-worth the top pick they used on him, despite his early season struggles. Thankfully for he and the Chiefs, the team hasn’t had a hiccup in their season yet. But the Kansas City brass knows that if they can win in spite of his troubles in the regular season, it’s bound to pay dividends when Fisher and the Chiefs hit the post-season this year.

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