NEW YORK -- The stone that fans, marketers, major programs and some experts rejected has become the cornerstone of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Eric Fisher, a towering left tackle from Central Michigan who is nearly anonymous outside of hardcore draftnik circles, became the first No. 1 pick ever from the Mid-American Conference and the first No. 1 pick in recent memory whose identity was not known days (or weeks) before the NFL draft when the Chiefs selected him just after 8 p.m. ET.
"It's hard to process right now, what just happened," Fisher said after he was selected.
News that the Chiefs coveted Fisher, not the more highly touted (and similarly skilled) Luke Joeckel, began trickling through unofficial channels on Wednesday afternoon. By contrast, Cam Newton's identity was known for days before the 2011 draft, and the Colts selected 2012 No. 1 pick Andrew Luck at roughly his point of conception.
Whatever the scuttlebutt, Fisher said he did not know he was going to the Chiefs until he got the phone call. "I think a lot of people knew more than I did," he said. "I honestly had no idea I was going to Kansas City."
Fisher, at 6-foot-7 and 306 pounds, is draftnik catnip. His combination of size, athleticism and physicality captured a lot of attention at the Senior Bowl and the combine. Once Central Michigan game tape surfaced, professional and amateur draft sleuths saw an excellent combination of quickness and aggressiveness, with better-than-adequate technique that can easily improve with NFL coaching. A slow consensus grew among tape grinders, finally reaching the mainstream, that Fisher was a teensy bit better than Joeckel, if anything about either player can be said to be "teensy."
The Chiefs felt the same way.
Fisher left high school as a 6-foot-7, 230 pound, two-star prospect from Stoney Creek High School in Michigan. He received just two scholarship offers, from Central and Eastern Michigan. He felt snubbed by the larger Michigan programs, and he has said as much. He filled out his frame quickly and earned a starting job as a freshman. By last season, he was handling himself well against higher-level competition, with excellent performances against Michigan State and Iowa.
Fisher and Joeckel are not Luck and Robert Griffin in terms of spotlight wattage, but the little-known Chippewa has the potential to be a 10-year starter at one of the most important positions on the field. There was no hype preceding Fisher, and there will be minimal marketing push behind him. Offensive tackles, after all, are the ones who are supposed to do the pushing. They cannot be bothered with such things. "I'm an offensive lineman," Joeckel said. "Endorsements don't happen much anyway. I'm a background guy."
Joeckel was the second player taken, by the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the Dolphins traded up to select outside linebacker Dion Jordan from Oregon, the Eagles drafted Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, yet another tackle in a draft in which Keith Jackson's Big Uglies were the cream of the crop … though Fisher, Joeckel, and Johnson are good-looking guys.
"Three tackles in four picks. That's a lot of love for the big boys up front," Fisher said. The love continued when guards Jonathan Cooper (Cardinals) and Chance Warmack (Titans) left the board among the top 10 players, with Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker going to the Chargers 11th.
There was not a lot of love for skill position players. Wide receiver Tavon Austin (West Virginia) was the first receiver taken, by the Rams in the eighth spot. When the Bills finally selected a quarterback, it was not Geno Smith of West Virginia or coach Doug Marrone's college QB, Ryan Nassib, but E.J. Manuel of Florida State. Manuel was another draftnik favorite, ranked third or lower on many boards but first in the hearts of many tape scrutinizers. (Yes, this is a not-so-humble humble-brag.)
But let's not get carried away with draftnik prognostication prowess. The whole draft was a symphony of Say What? even for the hardcore. The Raiders traded out of the No. 3 slot to select Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden with the 12th selection. Hayden survived a torn blood vessel during a freak November injury; he has obviously received a clean bill of health. It is now fashionable, instead of calling a pick a "reach," to become a contrarian and point out the hard work that goes into scouting lesser-known players, analyzing their health concerns, and determining how they fit a scheme. All of those things are true. Also true: Hayden was a reach with the 12th pick, though it is wonderful to learn that he has a clean bill of health.
While Hayden joined Fisher and Manuel among the risers, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (a Utah tackle many felt was a top five talent) fell to the Panthers with the 14th pick, while Sharrif Floyd (another potential top five talent, a defensive tackle from Florida) fell to the Vikings 24th. Meanwhile the Giants decided to keep giving the big boys some love, taking Justin Pugh from Syracuse 19th.
The Jets, typically a source of draft day bewilderment, selected two outstanding defensive prospects, cornerback Dee Milliner of Alabama and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson of Missouri. Yep, two great defensive players. Because the Jets' problems are on defense.
The Bengals, who have a good-to-great tight end in Jermaine Gresham, drafted a good-to-great tight end in Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert. You can never have too many good-to-great tight ends, as long as you don't have more than two. Eifert was only the third of five skill position players taken. Maybe the Jets were just going with the flow. There's a first time for everything.
Just when the draft could not get more baffling, or more impenetrable to the casual fan (a one-future-fantasy-football-draftee-per-hour rate does not keep the salsa and chips flowing), the Patriots did what the Patriots do: They traded out of the first round. In a flurry of activity -- Vikings general manager Rick Spielman apparently raced from a press conference to take a call -- the rumor crashed through Radio City Music Hall and Twitter that the Vikings planned to make Manti Te'o their third selection of the first round. Excitement, confusion, but … nope. Cordarrelle Patterson, wide receiver, Tennessee. It wasn't the story of the night, but it was a guy who will touch the ball once in a while, which is something.
The Patriots got second, third, fourth, and seventh round picks in exchange for Patterson. There ought to be a law.
And Geno Smith? He will have to wait until Friday. So will Te'o, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib and a host of talented running backs and receivers.
A first round full of offensive linemen and "background guys" may not be your idea of a good time, but the fellows they will soon block for feel differently. When the Titans drafted drive-blocking Warmack, running back Chris Johnson summed up his feelings on Twitter: THANK GOD.
Lots of running backs, receivers and quarterbacks will be saying the same thing when their names are finally called on Friday.
For more coverage, check out Thursday night's live blog and tons of scouting reports on my Tailgater blog.