It was April 26, 2012 and the NFL had once again invited way too many prospects to Radio City Music Hall in New York City, leaving Stanford guard David DeCastro to sit patiently as he slipped further and further in the draft.
The top guard on the board had once been considered such a good, "once-in-a-lifetime" talent that many draft analysts had him pegged as a top-15 lock. By the 23rd overall pick, DeCastro was still available, but the Detroit Lions instead drafted offensive tackle Riley Reiff of Iowa.
Lions fans bristled a bit, especially as DeCastro was drafted one pick later by the Pittsburgh Steelers. After all, guard was an immediate need for Detroit, whereas the Lions' already had a pair of full-time starters at tackle.
Fast-forward to roughly a year later. Gosder Cherlius is now a Colt, Jeff Backus is collecting his pension and Reiff is the only reason the Lions aren't in a blind panic on the offensive line.
Meanwhile, after recovering from an MCL tear, DeCastro had such a huge impact on the Steelers' offensive line, they went 1-2 with him as a starter and averaged 85 rushing yards on 3.4 yards per carry last season. Maybe they should look into trading up for Chance Warmack.
At any rate, the point is that the Lions drafted Reiff, and he now stands as an integral part of the offense. Regardless, the Lions still have questions along the line. They've lost three starters, and have only added two new players over the past year—Reiff and former Cowboys starter Bill Nagy.
On the surface, the Lions are perfectly comfortable with their situation. Nagy looks like a solid choice to take over as the starter, albeit a contested one, at right guard and Reiff almost certainly will play at one of the vacated tackle positions. The Lions have been non-committal about where they have Reiff slotted, but according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, left tackle is very much in play.
Dave Birkett @davebirkett
Mayhew wouldn't commit to a position for Riley Reiff this fall but did say "I can see him at left tackle."3/18/2013, 7:34:15 PM
Right now, it's a difficult decision. As things stand, it seems most like the Lions would put Reiff at left tackle and 2010 fourth-round pick Jason Fox at right tackle.
But what if that decision were to be made easier? Maybe a lot easier?
Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan could make many things a lot easier for the Lions.
Reiff could be a very effective starter at left tackle, but there are elements to him—his stocky build and short arms for instance—that would limit him from likely being one of the truly elite players at his position.
Fisher is a more-prototypical left tackle, while Reiff's build and proficiency as a run-blocker seem to point to him being best suited at right tackle. Admittedly, this puts Fox squarely back in no-man's land, but it also secures the edges of the offensive line with a pair of first-round picks that should lock down their respective positions (and opposing edge-rushers) for the next 10 years.
But there is a simpler answer as to why the Lions need Fisher. If he is available at No. 5 overall, he is undoubtedly the most talented player on the board.
At the time of publication:
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com has Fisher listed as the best prospect in the draft, even higher than Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel.
Rob Rang of CBSSports.com lists Fisher as the No. 2 player in the draft, and admits he sees how Fisher could overtake Joeckel on some boards.
Chris Burke of SI.com has Fisher listed at No. 3 on his big board.
You know where nobody has Fisher listed on a big board? Fifth, which means the Lions are getting a huge value if they can get him there.
If the Lions are truly a team that values "talent over need," Fisher makes all the sense in the world as arguably the best talent available.
Of course, we know that the Lions aren't truly tied to "talent over need" with no context. A lot of it has to do with whether that talent is actually usable.
The actual best player available at No. 5 overall might be a defensive tackle—Sharrif Floyd of Florida or Star Lotulelei of Utah.
Those guys might be the most talented players available, but it wouldn't result in a maximal talent upgrade, because the Lions already have two first-round picks at DT. What sense does it make to have a first-round pick on the bench by design?
So in a way, maximal talent and need have to be balanced. The player in question doesn't have to play the position of greatest need, he just has to be usable.
This is why Fisher makes sense. He fits the bill, even if the Lions were drafting for need. He works in both, the "draft talent" and "fill-needs" draft philosophies.
Will the Lions even have a shot at Fisher if he's this good? Maybe not, but the Lions have some things working for them. The Eagles are the only team ahead of them that would have apparent interest in Fisher.
The Eagles are a mess up front, but recently had quarterback Geno Smith in for a workout, which they sent the entire front office to visit (via CBSSports.com).
Though sentiments run hot and cold on Smith, he makes sense to run Chip Kelly's offensive scheme while the presence of Michael Vick on the roster gives Smith a year to develop, which by most accounts, he'll need.
But Vick isn't a long-term answer, and precedent is on Smith's side: The last time a quarterback wasn't drafted somewhere in the top four picks was 2000, and the first guy off the board then was Chad Pennington at 18th overall. Tom Brady went some five rounds later.
Since then, the top quarterback has gone no later than third in every draft, including first overall in four of the last five. That's not just a funny stat, and it's not just because all the quarterbacks are just that good.
Quarterbacks get overdrafted every single year because teams that draft high tend to have new coaches, and new coaches draft new quarterbacks.
The Chiefs would have fit this trend, but they found their "new" quarterback by trading for former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith.
The Jaguars also fit the bill. They are theoretically in play for Smith, but they also have a very recent first-round pick in Blaine Gabbert that they may try to salvage (or more likely, they might wait until the second round for their prize, Andy Dalton-style).
The Eagles are most likely to take both Fisher and Smith. The more the needle points toward Smith, the better the Lions' odds are of getting one of the most-talented players in the draft.
The Lions are the only team picking in the top 10 with anything resembling stability at quarterback, so it is to their benefit to see as many late-rising quarterback prospects as possible. The Lions won't draft a quarterback early, so the more teams that do so means more teams are not taking Lions' draft prospects.
That brings me back to Fisher. The Lions may need a quarterback to rise in order for Fisher to fall, but if it happens, the Lions cannot pass him up.
He's an upgrade in both the short-term and long-term and protects the Lions' investment in Stafford in a division with some of the most devastating pass-rushers in the NFL. Fisher is also among the surest things in a draft with a notoriously weak top end and he allows Reiff to play a position he's better built for at right tackle.
In a way, drafting Fisher solidifies the Lions' offense at two positions.
No other draft pick can do that.