KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has to like his offseason so far. He found the quarterback he needed for next season in a trade for Alex Smith. He kept the wide receiver (Dwayne Bowe) that was his team's best pass-catcher, and he improved his secondary with savvy free-agent acquisitions (Sean Smith, Dunta Robinson). Now comes the decision the whole football world had been waiting to see: The Chiefs made the right move in drafting Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher with the first overall pick in the NFL draft.
The debate for the past couple months had centered on whether the Chiefs preferred Fisher or Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel. It turns out the decision wasn't nearly as difficult as observers imagined. Joeckel had the big-school reputation, but the 6-foot-7, 306-pound Fisher was the better athlete. Reid said as much three times during his news conference Thursday night. That was the only major difference he was willing to concede in discussing both players.
That also means the Chiefs have taken one more substantial step in exorcising the painful memories that came from four years of Scott Pioli running the club. When Pioli made his first move in the 2009 draft -- using the No. 3 overall pick on disappointing defensive end Tyson Jackson -- many felt he overreached for a player that hasn't come close to measuring up to that selection. When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced at Radio City Music Hall that the Chiefs had selected Fisher, cheers erupted from the nearly 4,000 fans attending their draft party in Kansas City. It was one more sign that faith and optimism were once again hovering around the franchise.
The safer choice would've been to take Joeckel because of his visibility and exposure to tougher competition. The smarter choice was to select a player who is versatile enough to play any position on the offensive line and intense enough to impress his new head coach.
"When you meet him, you'll see that there's a focus to him," Reid said in Kansas City. "When we worked him out, you could see he was no-nonsense. He wanted to get to work, and we wanted to see how he handled our coaching. He did a good job of that and handling the parts of the offense we gave him. We felt good about him."
From everything Reid said, Fisher never stopped impressing the Chiefs. They liked him after meeting him at the Senior Bowl. They liked him even more after the combine, his individual workouts and all the research they did into his background. Fisher has smarts (he majored in engineering) and leadership skills, and the level of his competition in the Mid-American Conference didn't hurt him. As Reid pointed out, the kid looked just as tough when he was facing bigger schools, such as Michigan State and Iowa.
More than anything, the Chiefs saw a self-made man. Fisher was nimble enough to be an all-league basketball player in high school and determined enough to make a name for himself in football despite being just a two-star college recruit from Rochester, Mich. When asked how he went from those humble beginnings to being the No. 1 overall pick, Fisher alluded to all the talented offensive linemen in this year's class. "I got to this point because I had great competition," Fisher said. "I'm the kind of guy who loves to compete, and I'm going to go all-out until I'm first at what I'm doing."
Reid didn't go into too many specifics about what separated Fisher from Joeckel, but Fisher's career path had to be a big difference-maker in the process. Fisher traveled a tougher road to his success, and he improved with every challenge that was placed in front of him. This is the same guy who played quarterback and outside linebacker in high school before his coach encouraged him to try offensive tackle. Fisher made the move for the same reasons he does everything -- because it helped make his team better.
This is exactly the kind of personality that is vital to a rebuilding project. With all the individual talent the Chiefs have (they had six Pro Bowl players last season), they also need more leaders in their locker room. Pioli spawned an era during which even the biggest stars felt compelled to keep a low profile, and Reid can't win if that trend continues. The offensive line alone lost its two most prominent leaders with the release of right tackle Eric Winston and the retirement of guard/center Ryan Lilja. If the team follows through with a trade of left tackle Branden Albert to Miami, that will be another veteran departing in the trenches.
Fisher's presence should make Kansas City fans feel better about the direction this team is taking. The easy comparison is to say the Chiefs may have found their own Joe Staley, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl left tackle who also played at Central Michigan. Reid did admit that it was reassuring to see a huge picture of Staley in the Central Michigan team facility upon arriving to work out Fisher. But that also wouldn't be fair to Fisher. As he said, Staley has encouraged him to be his own man once he enters the league.
That man, judging from everything we've heard, should be more than enough to help the Chiefs move forward. Four years ago, there was confusion and frustration that came with the first draft pick of a new regime. This time around, there is hope and belief. The arrival of Eric Fisher had a lot to do with that. So does everything else that has been going the Chiefs' way this offseason.