AVENTURA, Fla. — There are star players everywhere in Super Bowl LIV. Patrick Mahomes. Richard Sherman. Travis Kelce. George Kittle. Tyreek Hill. Jimmy Garoppolo. The list goes on.
Only one player in this Super Bowl was a No. 1 overall draft pick, and most people probably would not recognize him if they walked right by him.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher is part of a history of top overall picks that ranges from immortals like Peyton Manning to fairly forgettable names like Courtney Brown. Fisher, who wasn’t exactly a college star at Central Michigan, is more on the Brown end of the list than Manning. But every top overall pick is remembered. It can be a blessing or a curse.
Fisher has had a solid, productive career playing a mostly anonymous position at left tackle. Had Fisher been drafted second overall, he’d just blend into the crowd. But it’s not like that for top overall picks. Early on, he felt the pressure and admits it affected him.
“I don’t know how it couldn’t,” Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck said. “As a young player there was a lot of pressure put on that guy. But he handled that pressure and has played a lot of good football for us.”
Eric Fisher was first pick in a thin draft
Fisher was a unique pick in an unusual draft.
The 2013 NFL draft wasn’t filled with great prospects, and it hasn’t produced many great NFL players either. There was no great pass rusher or skill-position player among the top prospects. The only quarterback taken in the first round was EJ Manuel to the Buffalo Bills at No. 16. In most other drafts, Fisher would have been a high pick but not first.
Fisher also wasn’t a normal No. 1 pick. He was an unranked, two-star recruit out of high school whose only scholarship offers were from Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan. He was the first Mid-American Conference player ever drafted higher than No. 7 overall. He was the first small-school non-quarterback to go No. 1 since Ed “Too Tall” Jones in 1974.
Fisher was an anomaly. But he was still the first overall pick, and a lot of extra attention comes along with that title. He is open about his struggles as a rookie. He finished 71st among 73 tackles with at least 400 snaps in Pro Football Focus’ grades his rookie season. He had two surgeries after the season.
With some time to reflect he decided he had to “flush away” the pressure.
“I’m not going to say everything went wrong my rookie year, but I knew there was a big jump to improve my second year,” Fisher said. “I just realized I was better without putting that pressure upon myself. I think it’s human nature for anyone in that position to feel that pressure.”
At the end of his his seventh season Fisher might not be on on a Hall of Fame path, but he’s no bust either.
He improved. Heck said he thinks Fisher is playing the best football of his career. He made a Pro Bowl last season. He has done well financially. He signed a four-year, $48 million extension in 2016. His rookie deal was a four-year contract worth more than $22 million. He’s going to start in a Super Bowl on Sunday.
He had a tough season, with injuries limiting him to eight regular-season games. He finished 44th among tackles with at least 400 snaps in Pro Football Focus’ grades (he finished 27th last season). But overall he has developed nicely after a slow start to his career. First picks are expected to be superstars and Hall of Famers, and while Fisher hasn’t been that, he has been a good player for a fantastic Chiefs team.
“As long as, at the end of the day when I retire one day, that I am comfortable being where I’m at in life and what I’ve done in my career, that’s what it will boil down to,” Fisher said. “As long as I look at myself in the mirror and say I did everything I could have done, I’ll be good with it.”
Fisher had pressure as No. 1 overall pick
Fisher has answered plenty of questions this week about his path as a No. 1 overall pick. At Thursday’s media availability Fisher sat at a table with Cam Erving, a tackle who started eight games for the Chiefs this season. A steady stream of reporters came to talk to Fisher. Erving was mostly unbothered the entire session, free to play on his phone. Erving was also a first-round pick but the 19th pick of the 2015 draft, not first overall. Erving can blend in like Fisher probably wished he could at times.
Fisher has learned to handle it. The early struggles and pressure helped shape him.
“I’m glad I went through some tough days early in my career,” Fisher said.
Fisher will play a big part in Sunday’s game. Slowing down the 49ers’ pass rush is one of the Chiefs’ keys to winning.
And here’s how it goes for Fisher. If he does his job, nobody will notice. If he gets beat for a sack or two, it’ll be mentioned a few times on the broadcast that he was once the first overall pick.
And then maybe you’ll remember his name.
“Unfortunately I don’t play a position where ... you can’t make plays on the O-line,” Fisher said, reflecting back to his rookie year struggles. “Somebody can be having that kind of rookie year and they score two touchdowns and next thing you know they’re the hero. Unfortunately on the offensive line it’s not like that.”
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