So what now? Crush them for the pick? Or appreciate the indirect way of cutting bait and admitting it hasn’t worked out the way they planned?
Do you pound the wall over Eric Fisher — it’s not as if Luke Joeckel has exactly been killing it on the blind side in Jacksonville, to this point — or do you praise the Kansas City Chiefs’ brass for trying something different?
Chiefs coach Andy Reid announced that his Week 1 starter at left tackle will be Donald Stephenson, who’s held the job capably since Fisher was injured prior to the second preseason contest against Seattle (Preseason ProFootballFocus.com grades at the position: Fisher, 15 snaps, -0.2; Stephenson, 94 snaps, +1.3). So the quick-take headline Monday was “Fisher loses left tackle job,” and the snap judgment was that 2013’s overall No. 1 pick is officially teetering toward “bust” territory.
And not the Canton kind.
As to that last assertion, we’ll kindly hold off, at least for now.
At 24, Fisher’s made 29 starts and averaged a 7 Approximate Value (AV) score from Pro-Football-Reference.com over his first two NFL seasons. At 24, Jon Baldwin had made 10 career starts and averaged a 2 AV score. At 24, John Alt, the gold standard on the left side for a generation of Chiefs faithful, had made seven career starts and also averaged a 2 AV. Branden Albert, the man Fisher was drafted to eventually replace, averaged a 6.33 AV over his first three seasons as a pro.
Star? Franchise protector? Not yet.
But “bust?” We’ll see.
Reid insisted — as he’s insisted since, oh, May — that his mission for the 2015 offensive line is to trot out the “best” five, or at least the five that work the best in tandem, Jeff Allen’s wonky knee notwithstanding. Fisher’s move — not a demotion, per se, so much as a move — drew the eyebrow-raising when it was unveiled. But that second-year man Laurent Duvernay-Tardif progressed enough to earn the No. 1 right guard slot over, say, veteran Paul Fanaika or Zach Fulton, who started all 16 contests there a year ago, is another show of faith, if not an outright leap.
Big Red contends that Stephenson simply fits better on the left side than the right. The PFF grades to this point don’t disagree: The ex-Sooner logged 282 snaps at left tackle in ’13, grading out at a cumulative -1.5. Fisher logged 1,030 snaps at the position last fall, grading a cumulative -17.5.
Now extrapolate Fisher’s 1,030 snaps with Stephenson’s 2013 pace, and the grade projects as a -5.5. Great? Heck, no. But better.
A similar pattern emerges when you compare the pair’s recent work at right tackle. Stephenson’s 372 snaps on the right in ’13 and ’14 amounted to a cumulative -14.0 PFF mark. Fisher’s rookie campaign at right tackle in ‘13 graded out to a -21.5 on 811 snaps.
Extrapolate Stephenson’s grade out over No. 72’s 811 snaps at right tackle, and things get even uglier: -30.5. Mercy.
Sample-size comparisons aren’t perfect, nor are they necessarily absolute. But it does add a little meat to Reid’s roll of the dice. With J.J. Watt on one side of the line and (presumably) Jadeveon Clowney on the other down in Houston, every inch of the pocket figures to have its hands full.
Although this week’s tackle tweak won’t abate the talk-show callers (and hosts) who have doubts about general manager John Dorsey’s track record with first-round selections. Even if Fisher eventually returns to the left side, he’s looked anything but a world-beater there thus far. Outside linebacker Dee Ford, 2014’s first pick, only occasionally saw the field as a rookie and still has a ways to go to supplant 31-year-old Tamba Hali on the depth chart.
Your serve, Marcus Peters. Maybe the third time’s the charm.