MOBILE, Ala. – Shortly after the bowl season was complete, a number of top underclassmen began pondering their NFL futures.
In the end, a record-setting 73 juniors or redshirt sophomores ended up declaring early for the NFL Draft. That number drastically changed the look and feel of most positions in this year’s draft.
But one spot was altered significantly more by who didn’t come out than who did: offensive tackle. As expected, top prospect Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M entered his name in the draft and he’s expected to be a top five pick and the first offensive lineman taken.
More surprising, though, was the decisions of Michigan’s Taylor Lewan and Joeckel’s A&M teammates Jake Matthews to return to school for their senior seasons.
Subtracting that pair means more opportunity for another highly regarded tackle to elevate his status even further. The man who appears to be filling the void is Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, who came here this week intent to show the football world he’s a top-10 caliber player.
“I try not to pay attention to that stuff,” Fisher said. “I just try to become a better offensive lineman every day and really work on my game. This is a huge opportunity for me down here, coming out of a MAC school to play against some of the elite competition in the nation.”
Early returns this week on Fisher indicate that he is more than up to the challenge of taking on better competition than he faced in his time at Central Michigan. The Senior Bowl game on Saturday will be another test for him as he squares off against players from big name schools like Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Florida State and more.
Fisher believes that opportunity to face those types of athletes will allow him to prove to any remaining doubters he might have in the scouting world that it doesn’t matter where he comes from so long as he can play.
It’s the reason that even though he was already considered a first-round prospect, Fisher accepted the invitation to come play in the nation’s premiere all-star game.
“I think a lot of people, including me, wanted to see me go against elite competition,” Fisher said. “Going against these guys from the SEC and stuff in this game will be great for me I think. I just want to prove to everybody I am worthy of being here.”
That Fisher is here at all probably would have felt like a pipe dream had he been told it was possible at the outset of his college career.
By the time he was a senior coming out of Rochester, Mich., Fisher was lightly recruited receiving his only two offers from directional Michigan schools Central and Eastern Michigan.
When Fisher arrived on the Central Michigan campus, he weighed in at 242 pounds and was listed as a tight end on the depth chart. But Fisher harkened back to when he was being recruited and on his visit to Central Michigan, he recalled seeing a picture of San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley, a Chippewa alumnus who had gone in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Fisher knew he wasn’t big or strong enough to follow in those footsteps but quickly decided that would be his aspiration.
“I remember being recruited and seeing his picture up on the wall with the first round label and I told myself back then that I want to be that guy too,” Fisher said. “So I am really working hard for it and hopefully I can get there.”
Fisher hit the training table hard, taking advantage of every opportunity for seconds, thirds and even fourths in hopes of bulking up and adding weight.
In his first two seasons, Fisher bounced from right tackle to left tackle to right guard. He even got some work at center during spring ball and said his versatility is something he believes could help bolster his stock.
Central Michigan ran a spread offense his first year but became more of a pro style team for his final three seasons. Fisher moved to left tackle officially as a junior and immediately showed it was a natural fit.
Central Michigan fans didn’t hesitate to begin drawing comparisons to their most famous alum, Staley. Not that Fisher minds.
“I get that a lot,” Fisher said. “I like watching Joe play on Sundays. He’s a very athletic lineman and I take pride in being an athletic offensive lineman. I just try to play how I am comfortable playing and it’s working out pretty good.”
While Fisher still isn’t a completely finished product, he checked in here this week at an impressive 6’7, 305 pounds. The buzz here has been mostly positive for Fisher, a player scouts consider to be excellent in pass protection as he’s done well for the most part in one on one pass rush drills.
Some scouts question whether Fisher’s punch in the run game is enough to make him a top pick but for his part Fisher said he’s constantly working to be as good in one area as he is in the other.
“I think I am overall, good in both areas,” Fisher said. “I don’t want to have a strength in one because the better you are overall, the more you can work with the team as an offense and the more you can get done.”
From the Rams’ perspective, drafting a tackle would seem like a viable option considering that last year’s starter on the right side,
Most likely, though, Fisher will end up out of the team’s reach as he’s expected to go before the Rams get on the clock at No. 16.
The humble Fisher isn’t letting any of that bother him this week. He said he’s taking pride in being what he believes is only the third player from Central Michigan to get an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
Likewise, Fisher is keeping his mind open on his draft status, even referring to being drafted as an ‘if’ rather than a ‘when.’
Fisher also is in touch with Staley, a player whose status he seems likely to surpass at least from a draft standpoint. Staley was the 28th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Staley will be the starting left tackle for the Niners in Super Bowl XLVII in a little more than week.
“I talk to Joe every now and then,” Fisher said. “He’s kind of a mentor for me going through this process. He showed me it is possible coming out of a MAC school for something like this. I try to keep in touch with him. I know he’s a busy guy but he’ll text me every now and then, tell me to keep up the hard work and just be me.”