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 was because the offensive tackle’s cell phone 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.”
Reid believes Fisher was worth the wait, too.
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.
“I can’t even process what’s happening right now,” Fisher said. “This is a dream come true, the fact that I was the No. 1 pick. I can’t even understand what’s going on right now, but what an honor. What an honor. A great opportunity.”
Fisher is the third offensive lineman picked No. 1 since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
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.
Once his cell phone reception finally improved.
“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.”
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 during the annual scouting combine. His ability to make blocks in the open field — not to mention a bit of a mean streak — made him a natural fit for Reid’s offense.
The Chiefs were in a need of a quarterback after going 2-14 a year ago, but without a top-end talent available, they acquired 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.
While Fisher doesn’t play a marquee position such as quarterback or wide receiver, and may not push the needle for many Chiefs fans, he does fill a significant need.
Albert, who the Chiefs picked in the first round in 2008, was given the franchise tag in March when the two sides failed to reach agreement on a long-term deal. He ultimately signed the tender, which guarantees him about $9.3 million next season, but has repeatedly expressed his unhappiness with the lack of long-term stability. The Chiefs granted permission to the Dolphins to speak with Albert’s agent, and it’s possible a trade could happen during the draft. Kansas City was seeking a second-round pick.
That would allow Fisher to slide into the starting lineup at left tackle. Even if Albert plays for 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’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.
While Fisher is a solid pass blocker, his real strength comes in the running game, where he helped the Chippewas’ Zurlon Tipton run for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns last season.
Now, he’ll be blocking for Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles.
Fisher is the 13th offensive lineman that the Chiefs have drafted in the first round, the most of any position. He also continues a trend: Dorsey helped to pick offensive linemen two of the past four years when he was working for the Packers, and Reid selected offensive guard Danny Watkins with the Eagles’ first-round pick in 2011.
The only other offensive linemen picked first overall had been Orlando Pace, who the Rams selected in 1997, and Jake Long, the choice of the Dolphins in 2008.
Pace started 165 games over 13 seasons, and was voted an All-Pro three times while making seven Pro Bowls. Long started 68 of the 80 games he’s played over the past five seasons, going to the Pro Bowl every year from 2008-11, but appeared to decline this past year.
“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.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.