When he was considering how to use the No. 1 overall pick in April's NFL draft, new Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey was not worried about age-old conventions.
He was looking for the best player available, NFL principles be damned. After the Chiefs took Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher and did not trade left tackle Branden Albert to Miami during draft week, they quickly announced that Fisher would play right tackle. There was some scoffing. Using the top pick on a right tackle?
“I wasn’t going to be pigeonholed by the way things used to be or are expected to be,” Dorsey said. “My goal is to put the five best linemen on the field that we can. Having Eric Fisher and Branden Albert on the field together helps us achieve that. We want big, fast guys who can help keep our quarterback upright and move well in the running game. That’s what we want in our right tackle, and we think Eric gives us that.”
Traditionally, teams have used premium picks on left tackles because of their athleticism and their blindside protection of quarterbacks. Right tackles were considered less important and less athletic. Those road-grading days may be over. Teams are burying the old thinking about right tackles and adjusting as the game becomes faster and more athletic.
“The line between left and right tackle is more blurry than it ever has been,” ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said. “You don’t have to have a big, fat masher on the right side anymore. The league is changing. … So I totally understand the pick of Fisher and the plan to keep Albert and put Fisher on the right side. The league is going that way.”
The Chiefs weren’t alone in using a top pick on a player who will start his career at right tackle. Jacksonville took Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel at No. 2, and Philadelphia took Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson at No. 4. They, too, are expected to start their NFL careers on the right side. The idea of three of the first four picks' being taken to play right tackle would have knocked old-school general managers off their chairs 10 years ago.
“The game is changing. It has changed in the past 10 years, last five years, and in the past two years,” Dorsey said. “You have to roll with it and make a decision that best fits your team.”
Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. didn’t blink when the Chiefs took Fisher to make him a right tackle, at least for the time being. Teams are using more spread offenses and are moving toward a faster-paced passing game -- hence the need for more athletic players on the offensive line. The Chiefs recently hired Chris Ault, the Pistol offense innovator, as a consultant. The team plans to use some Pistol with quarterback Alex Smith, who is known for his mobility. Thus, Fisher -- who soared up draft boards because of his great athleticism -- is a good fit for Andy Reid’s offense.
“These days with the way offense is going, you see more and more offenses wanting two athletic, bookend tackles that can push outside and block on the run,” Horton said. “You don’t see too many 270-pound tight ends helping the right tackle in pass protection much anymore. And in the running game, teams are looking to go outside the tackle so often. So I see the change at right tackle. I was really impressed by what the Chiefs did. I really like the Albert-Fisher combination.”
So do the Chiefs. They considered trading Albert to Miami during the draft, but now want to strike a long-term deal with him. Albert is interested in staying in Kansas City, too. If they can agree, Fisher will probably stay at right tackle. If not, and Albert leaves as a free agent, Fisher will probably move over to left tackle.
For now, Fisher is on the right side -- he did play some right tackle early in his college career -- and said he feels good about it.
“I’m just trying to play offensive line,” Fisher told reporters in Kansas City recently. “I really love everything that comes along with it -- it’s a different territory in there. I’m really liking it. It’s a very similar system to what I ran in college, so like I said, I’m picking it up pretty well.”
The man Fisher is blocking for isn’t worried about his adjusting to the right side. Smith, acquired in a trade with San Francisco this year, is just happy the team used the No. 1 pick for more protection, regardless of where Fisher plays.
“I think a lot gets made up about the one tackle -- left tackle -- these days,” Smith recently told reporters in Kansas City. “You have to have all the spots. You have to have both guys. … For a quarterback, those guys are your best friends.”
Luckily for Smith, the Chiefs believe he needs two best friends.