KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs began to realize about two weeks ago that Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher would be their choice with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
The only reason they used up the 10 minutes allotted them Thursday night? The offensive tackle’s cellphone kept cutting out inside New York City’s Radio City Music Hall.
“We waited a while because we had a hard time getting ahold of him,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said with a smile. “The phone was dying. That was the reason for waiting.”
Evidently, Fisher was worth the wait.
The Chiefs picked him ahead of Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, who went No. 2 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, to kick off a draft heavy on linemen. Fisher is a potential replacement for Branden Albert, and should help protect the blindside of new quarterback Alex Smith.
“It was almost surreal that phone call was happening,” said Fisher, just the third offensive lineman picked No. 1 since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. “It was my goal all along, but I think it didn’t hit me until my phone rang.”
The Chiefs had the top pick in the NFL draft for the first time in franchise history. But rather than announce their intentions early, like the Indianapolis Colts did in picking Andrew Luck last season, new general manager John Dorsey and Reid decided to wait until they were on the clock before making their choice public.
Kansas City was still considering a handful of players early this week, including Joeckel, who many believed was the best available player. Dorsey also indicated that he would listen to offers from teams trying to trade up until the last possible minute.
When nothing materialized, Dorsey phoned in his selection and Fisher became the first player from Central Michigan to be picked first overall.
“What you’re getting is a very athletic player, a great kid, a smart kid — engineering major,” Reid said. “He can play any position along the line, and loves to play the game.”
The Chiefs were in a need of a quarterback after going 2-14 a year ago, but without a top-end talent available, they chose to acquire Smith in a trade with San Francisco. That allowed them to spend the most coveted pick in the draft on who they believed to be the best player.
Fisher is only the third player in the past 20 years to be drafted first from a non-BCS school, and the first non-quarterback. The only other player out of Central Michigan to go in the first round was Joe Staley, the San Francisco 49ers’ Pro Bowl left tackle.
With surprising athleticism in a 6-foot-7, 306-pound frame, Fisher rocketed up draft boards after the Senior Bowl. And while he doesn’t play a marquee position such as quarterback, and may not push the needle for many Chiefs fans, Fisher does fill a significant need.
Albert, who the Chiefs picked in the first round in 2008, was given the franchise tag in March and is due to make about $9.3 million next season. But he has repeatedly expressed his unhappiness with the lack of long-term stability, and the Chiefs granted permission to the Dolphins to speak with Albert’s agent, making a trade possible at some point during the draft.
That would allow Fisher to slide into the starting lineup at left tackle. And if Albert is still with the Chiefs next season, one of them could shift to the right side.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Reid said, “because he’s a good football player. I’m going to take the five best guys and put them up there. Position doesn’t matter to me. Never has.”
Fisher certainly isn’t going to quibble: “Wherever I can help the team out, wherever they put me, I’m fine with it,” he said. “Wherever they need me, I’m ready to play.”
Fisher’s only scholarship offers out of high school came from Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan, and he said at the combine in February that he heard from Michigan State and Purdue but that “neither of them really wanted anything to do with me.”
The Chiefs certainly have made him feel wanted.
The only other offensive linemen to be picked first overall had been Orlando Pace, who the Rams selected in 1997, and Jake Long, the choice of the Dolphins in 2008.
“So many great players have been the first pick, and you can throw me in the bunch now. I don’t know if it’s hit me yet,” said Fisher, adding that he will use some of his rookie contract to help his mother retire after 33 years spent working for Volkswagen.
Fisher is the 13th offensive lineman that the Chiefs have drafted in the first round. He also continues a trend: Dorsey helped to pick offensive linemen two of the past four years while he was working for the Green Bay Packers, and Reid selected offensive guard Danny Watkins with the Philadelphia Eagles’ first-round pick in 2011.
“We’re fortunate to have a draft where there’s a number of offensive linemen who are first-round-caliber guys,” Reid said. “That’s what we need here, and we have a good nucleus now.”