However, lost amid all the good news in KC was a disappointing rookie season from last year's first overall pick. If the Chiefs are going to make it back into the postseason in 2014, then Eric Fisher is going to need to improve by leaps and bounds in his second year.
Fisher built up a head of steam heading into last year's draft with great showings at the Senior Bowl and combine. By the time the draft rolled around it was neck-and-neck between Fisher and Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel as to who would be selected first overall:
Fisher won out, with the NFL Network's Mike Mayock saying of the pick, "When I put my Top 100 out there, he was the first name on the list, which tells you how strongly I feel about him. He's a Pro Bowl left tackle."
That was just about the last time anything positive was written about Fisher.
With veteran Branden Albert entrenched on the left side and not amenable to a switch, Fisher was inserted into the starting lineup at right tackle.
It was a trainwreck.
Everything that possibly could go wrong did with Fisher as a rookie. He was slow off the snap. His footwork and technique were awful. Even when he did get set, defenders simply ran through him.
In September, it was Andrew Brandt of the MMQB criticizing Fisher after he allowed a sack, a hit and two hurries in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles:
It was Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller's turn in Week 6, when he allowed a sack, a hit and four hurries in a win over the Raiders:
At least the Chiefs won those games. It was a different story in Week 11, when Fisher tallied his lowest grade of the season (-6.0) at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) while giving up a pair of sacks and an eye-popping five hurries against the Broncos:
By season's end, Fisher had given up seven sacks. Only two right tackles in the NFL graded out lower than Fisher at PFF.
|Eric Fisher 2013|
|Per Pro Football Focus|
2014 isn't getting off to much of a better start.
While speaking to Pro Football Talk at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, Kansas City general manager John Dorsey was disturbingly vague when asked if Fisher has adjusted well enough to the NFL to flip back to left tackle in 2014.
“I mean that’s a hypothetical,” Dorsey said. “I wouldn’t address that right now.”
If Fisher isn't ready he'd better get ready in a hurry, because I've got another theoretical for you.
Theoretically, Branden Albert is a goner.
The 29-year-old ranked a so-so 28th among offensive tackles at PFF in 2013 but after making the Pro Bowl last year there will be no shortage of suitors for Albert's services.
As things stand right now, the Chiefs are about $9.8 million under the salary cap for 2014, according to Spotrac (subscription required). It would cost the team just under $12 million to franchise tag Albert for a second straight year. His annual salary in a long-term deal will likely come in at or over $10 million.
In other words, the odds of Albert playing for the Chiefs in 2014 just aren't very good.
And that means Fisher moving back to the left side.
Donald Stephenson is a very good swing tackle, having made 13 starts last year split almost evenly between the left and right side. He should be at least serviceable on the right side this year.
What Stephenson isn't, at least according to PFF, is a top-60 offensive tackle. He certainly isn't the guy the Chiefs want watching Alex Smith's blind side for 16 games.
Of course, neither is the Eric Fisher who manned the right side last year. Still, one has to think that Fisher's athleticism and power didn't just vanish into thin air. Switching from the left side to the right isn't as easy as it sounds, and those growing pains played a part in Fisher's struggles a season ago.
Now, back at his "natural" position, everything should be fine, right?
Frankly, the fact Dorsey didn't sound at all convinced does not inspire the warm and fuzzies.
Still, at this point the Chiefs are going to find out one way or another. Albert's leaving, the Chiefs don't have the scratch to add a tackle in free agency (if they did, Albert wouldn't be leaving) and by the time the Chiefs draft in Round 1 the "impact" tackles in this year's class will be long gone.
The Chiefs can add depth to be sure, and there's always the chance of getting lucky in the middle rounds a la Green Bay's David Bakhtiari.
Of course, the odds aren't very good, and the earlier the Chiefs draft a tackle in 2014 the more it would appear an indictment of Fisher's NFL future.
And it's much too early for shovels. Fisher would be far from the first NFL player to struggle early and then go on to a long and storied career. There's a reason why the Chiefs drafted Fisher first overall.
Now the Chiefs need him to show it, or last year's success and this spring's increased expectations will result in a fall of disappointment and a winter of discontent in Kansas City.
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