Much of the early discussion about Offensive Tackles in the 2013 Draft has centered on Texas A&M’s fantastic junior duo of Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, and all of their acclaim is well deserved. In addition to that pair, Michigan Junior OT Taylor Lewan has also received high praise. Lewan is someone I hyped frequently before the season, but in reviewing play from this year, I no longer believe he is the best OT in Michigan. Now, this isn’t so much a knock on Lewan, as it is praise for Central Michigan Senior OT Eric Fisher.
While I’d still place the 6’8 305 pound Senior behind the Texas A&M tackles, I’ve begun to think that Fisher is worthy of a Top 15 selection, and I think NFL teams will too as they dive into more film of him. Due to the school he plays at, I expect him to see many comparisons to San Francisco 49er LT Joe Staley, who many consider to be one of the better LTs in football. While I don’t think Fisher is dominant in any one aspect of the game, he shows a very well rounded skill set, athletic ability, and the potential to develop.
The best way for me to describe Fisher’s game is to call it smooth. Everything Fisher does seems to happen naturally, and is done with impressive athletic ability. He also shows promising technique. Pictured below is Fisher’s 3rd and 4th step in his kick slide. Before looking at his feet, first look at his eyes. They stay locked in on the defender’s chest. In this regard, pass blocking is very similar to playing defense in basketball. The defender (pass blocker) wants to stay locked into the defender’s chest/torso. The saying goes, “hips don’t lie”, and this is true. Any kind of head fake, arm action, etc. is not important to the pass blocker. Getting locked into these movements is a recipe for disaster. Defensive players cannot go anywhere without bringing their hips with them, therefore maintaining focus is a critical element in pass protection. While this is all well and good, the battle is ultimately won with the feet. The second picture displayed already indicates that this protection will most likely be a “win” for Fisher. His feet are in proper position, and his body placement has walled off the DE’s path to the QB. This is all done before he even lays a hand the pass rusher. In addition, it’s tough to catch in picture, but due to his light feet and quick movements, Fisher’s head (and thus eye level), stays constant. You’ll note in watching some guys with heavy feet, that their heads will look like bobble heads in their kick slides. This is when a skilled pass rusher will threaten outside, and then pull a quick redirect move inside for a sack.
These final two pictures are what will wrap up this sequence as a win for Fisher. Once again, note the body positioning. At this point in the process, the defensive end knows that his path has been completely cut off, and he attempts to redirect back to the inside. Because of Fisher’s eyes and positioning, he uses the defensive ends momentum against him. He simply extends his arms outward, and pushes the pass rusher away from the QB. Even after this change of direction, you can see that Fisher is still displaying superior positioning. The basketball equivalent of staying in front of your man.
Now, these “smooth” athletes at the offensive tackle position will sometimes get the knock off being overly finesse players. This isn’t the case with Fisher. As the season has progressed, he’s displayed more physicality and aggression. When this is combined with his light feet and agility in space, you have a dangerous combination in the run game.
While Fisher’s game is fundamentally sound, it is not a game without flaws. Due to his height, there are times in which Fisher’s pad level will stay too high. When this occurs, too much of his body is left exposed, and it gives the defender a large aiming point. From there, when the defender is able to get his hands inside Fisher’s chest, he can start to take him for a ride backwards. There are also times when you see Fisher trying and roll his hips on contact (how power is ideally generated by offensive and defensive linemen), and there’s just not enough there. Fisher does possess a good base, and a solid re-anchoring ability, but he must to continue to build upon his core strength so that this does not becoming a glaring issue in the pros, like it has for other lighter offensive tackles.
In conclusion, while Fisher isn’t might lack a “wow” factor, there’s a lot about him to like as a prospect. He has tremendously light feet, great agility, an understanding of angles, and he has developed a more aggressive playing style as the year has continued. Fisher’s issues with pad level are unlikely to go away due to his frame, therefore, in order to compensate, he must continue to improve his core strength. It isn’t always mesmerizing with him, but it’s fundamentally sound, and showcases with sleek athletic ability at all levels of the field. For these reasons, it’s tough for me to not peg Fisher as the type who looks to be a plug and play 10 year starter. Considering the dearth of offensive tackle talent in the league, this is more than worthy of a Top 15 pick, which is where I think Fisher will ultimately be selected.