MOBILE -- Everybody expects the Dolphins to pick a playmaker in the first round of the NFL Draft in April. General manager Jeff Ireland acknowledged this week it’s the team’s No. 1 need.
But what if the team pulls a shocker and takes an offensive lineman first for the third time in six years?
Large swaths of the fan base would probably revolt. But personnel chiefs don’t (or at least shouldn’t) make decisions based on that.
And if Jake Long walks in free agency and Ireland can’t find a suitable replacement, Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher could be a tempting option if still available when the Dolphins’ No. 12 selection comes up.
The Dolphins clearly have interest. They were one of many teams that met with Fisher, a 6-7, 305-pound late bloomer, at this week’s Senior Bowl. And his stock is skyrocketing.
Although many rate Texas A&M lineman Luke Joeckel as the best player in this year’s draft, Fisher believes he can be the first tackle off the board.
“Obviously, it’s a goal for me,” Fisher said. “I want to set my standards high, with the way I perform. With high standards, the better I have to play to back that up.”
If he does go first, it would be a remarkable accomplishment for a player overlooked by the major conferences coming out of high school. Four years ago, Fisher was a two-star beanpole. He was the same height, but 60 pounds lighter.
That scared away the big schools that usually want their linemen ready-made.
Ultimately, Central Michigan gave him a shot, but with a condition: he must gorge himself.
Food for thought
Here’s how a normal day would go for Fisher at Central Michigan: Wake up and eat breakfast. Practice. Eat afterward. Go to class. Eat between classes. Work out. Go to film study. Then eat one last time before bed.
Fisher consumes some 6,000 calories a day, and the binging has paid off. He has developed power to go along with his natural athleticism (in high school, he played all over the field, including quarterback).
“The future’s really bright for him,” an AFC scout said of Fisher. “He’s got a lot of physical gifts, as far as being able to bend his knees, redirect. For him, it’s just a matter of being able to do some of the little things better.
“As far as size and athleticism, he has top-level talent.”
Few doubt he would be a suitable replacement for Long, whose stock has dropped as fast as Fisher’s has risen.
Pro Football Focus rated Long 46th out of the 80 NFL tackles to take at least 25 percent of his team’s offensive snaps in 2012.
When asked this week if he still considered the No. 1 pick of the 2008 draft elite, Ireland responded: “I think Jake can still play in this league for sure.”
Long and the Dolphins have engaged in on-again, off-again extension talks over the past few months — Ireland indicated this week that they’re on again. But if a deal can’t be done, former NFL coach and scout Pat Kirwan believes the Dolphins should place the $15 million franchise tag on Long — even if he has regressed as a player.
“I think it’s clear he has to be in a Dolphins uniform next year,” Kirwan said. “You have to realize how hard it is to find those guys. … I don’t think you can afford to go backwards when you’re building a team. That’s how I would look at it.”
Kirwan would counsel against targeting Fisher for the same reason Dolphins fans would be so irate if they do take him: Not because he isn’t a worthy pick, but because it would prevent them from filling one of the team’s more pressing needs.
All of these scenarios are beyond Fisher’s control. He could barely remember all of the teams that set up meetings in Mobile.
Instead, he’s focused on dominating in practice and in Saturday’s all-star game.
“I have a chip on my shoulder,” Fisher said. “Coming out of a [Mid-American Conference] school, not many people give MAC schools credit. I’m down here to prove we’re just as good as everybody else.”