With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#1: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
We conclude this year's series with Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher, Shutdown Corner's pick as the best overall player in the 2013 draft class. Certainly, no player has taken a longer trip from his high-school days to the NFL draft. As Andy Fenelon of NFL.com recently pointed out, Fisher was the 48th-ranked high-school prospect in Michigan in 2008, and Rivals didn't have him on their Top 80 list of tackles.
In defense of those who rank such things, that's what happens when you come out of Stoney Creek High in Rochester Hills, Michigan as a 230-pound tackle with no certain future ahead of you. Fisher was shut out by the Big 10 schools -- a fact that grinds him to this day -- and received two scholarship offers: One from Central Michigan, and one from Eastern Michigan. He chose Central, perhaps emboldened by the success alum Joe Staley has found in the NFL as a part of San Francisco's dynamic offensive line, and went about creating an absolute blocking monster.
"Big 10 teams, which was really the only conference I tried to go to, didn't want anything to do with me," Fisher recently told Shutdown Corner. "I don't think a lot of teams wanted to take on a project where I had to put on 70-plus pounds. But I found a way to get here and I think that's all that matters."
Fisher also mentioned that he drive six hours to visit one school, only to find that the coach he was scheduled to see was out playing golf.
"Yeah, it was a little frustrating," Fisher remembered. "Obviously, he's probably kicking himself."
Certainly he is, whoever he is. At Central Michigan, Fisher received the school's Future Ace award after starting two games as a true freshman, and spent the next three seasons exceeding all expectations. He grew into a 6-foot-7, 306 pound pure football player who not only completely dominated lesser opponents, but went all out when facing bigger schools. In particular, his performance against Michigan State in 2012 was a statement to all the programs that passed him up.
Still, it wasn't until Fisher hit the Senior Bowl like an 18-wheeler that NFL people really got a load of his professional potential. Throughout the week of practice, he matched the efforts of every other tackle, and became one of the stars of the week when he matched up well against the likes of Texas' Alex Okafor and UCLA's Datone Jones. He annoyed some by taking himself out of the actual game after the first series, but Fisher had proven his point, and he had bigger fish to fry.
At the scouting combine, Fisher put up a 5.05 40-yard dash, a 4.44 20-yard shuttle and 27 reps on the bench press, which only reinforced what the NFL already knew. Not only was Eric Fisher an underrated player through his college days -- the walking definition of a diamond in the rough -- but that he displayed the potential to change the top of the NFL draft in some unexpected ways.
Pros: Ideal build for a do-it-all tackle -- long arms, powerful upper body, muscular lower body, and the flexibility to employ outstanding leverage. Comes off the snap extending his arms, driving his defender, and leading with a nasty attitude. Quick kick-step allows him to step with speed rushers. Plays with a dominating personality -- developing a reputation as a bad-ass, and he wants to perpetuate it. Gets his feet down in a wide base and can absolutely envelop defenders. High percentage of knockdown blocks for his size, even against better teams. Gets under pads and comes up at an angle. Can be rocked back at times by bigger opponents, but re-sets with quickness and excellent technique.
Superlative footwork -- looked like a dancer during combine drills. Has the speed to pull and block at the second level. Stays in place through the block and counters spin moves very well. Has enough root strength to maintain a relative immunity to hand moves, though he may take time to adjust against NFL players who are more practiced at this. Outstanding combo and multi-player blocker; Fisher keeps his feet moving and his hands active, and he shoves off from one player to another with a natural feel.
Cons: Fisher could use come finishing work on his back-step in pass protection -- while he comes off the ball very quickly, he isn't as consistently smooth through the turn as you'd like and he'll lose guys who can dip-and-rip around him. Tends to shuffle when he should create a smoother arc. Will jab and push at the end of plays. Has a clear chip on his shoulder and a nasty streak, which is great as long as he keeps it under control. Tends to come up too high at times and can be beaten by pure leverage bull-rushers. Doesn't always hit his target in space. Strength of competition will be an issue for some.
Conclusion: It's generally a cop-out to compare players from the same school, but I see a lot of what has made Joe Staley a great player in Fisher. Similarly discounted as a high-school player, Staley played with a real edge and was selected by the 49ers with the 28th pick in the 2007 NFL draft. After a few years of adjustment and transition. Staley has become the pointman in the NFL's best offensive line. Fisher isn't quite as athletic as Staley was coming out of school, but he plays with a certain demeanor that sets him apart. His NFL coaches will add to his array of techniques, and I don't think Fisher will take as long to adjust to the speed of the next level. In fact, I see Eric Fisher as a prospect with the potential to not just excel, but dominate, for a number of years in the pro game.