On April 30, the 2015 NFL Draft festivities will begin. And while Oregon Ducks football fans eagerly await the fate of their former star quarterback, Marcus Mariota, there is another former Duck who is projected as a possible first round selection: OL Jake Fisher.
Arguably the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback’s most effective guardian, Fisher has persevered through the tectonic grind of the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, heightened media scrutiny, and microscopic nitpicking to emerge as a solid late first round or early second round prospect.
So, with only seven days remaining before draft day, FishDuck.com is taking a look at Fisher, the player and the prospect.
The Pancake Club
Every year, Oregon gives out an award for the most pancake blocks on opposing linemen. For those unfamiliar with the term, a ”pancake block” is administered to an opponent who is subsequently laid out on his back, flat as a pancake.
Not only was Fisher a two-time Pancake Club award winner, in 2014 he was also one of six semifinalists for the Outland Trophy for the nation’s best interior lineman. By wielding heavy-handed “Duck Justice” game after game, Fisher’s presence on the Ducks’ offensive line was essential to Oregon’s national championship run last season.
Fisher’s aggressiveness and just plain nasty style of play is frustratingly effective. Just ask UCLA‘s Eddie Vanderdoes, who took a swing at Fisher during the Ducks’ domination of the Bruins in Fisher’s first game after missing two games due to a minor leg injury.
And the numbers don’t lie, either. After Fisher’s return to the lineup, ESPN’s Ivan Maisel pointed out the importance of Fisher’s return in terms of statistics:
…in the Ducks’ first three games with Fisher they went 3-0 and averaged 52 points, and quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked four times. When Fisher was out of the lineup, Oregon was 1-1, averaging 31 points and allowing Mariota to be sacked 12 times. As soon as Fisher came back, the Ducks recorded a 42-30 win over UCLA in which Mariota was never sacked and had four touchdowns.
In his senior season, Fisher moved from right to left tackle. Why?
To eliminate Mariota’s vulnerability and secure the weak side of the line.
The left side is usually the quarterback’s blind side, making it doubly important to have your strongest lineman watching his back. Also, an opponent’s best pass rusher typically lines up on the offensive left side (the blind side), and thus another reason to have a bulwark with quick feet like Fisher absorbing an opponent’s strongest and fastest threat.
If a quarterback knows his left tackle has him covered, he is much more relaxed in the pocket and confident in his reads and progressions. Fisher boasts a long reach with 33 1/2-inch arms and 10 3/8-inch hands, further reducing the possibility of getting beat on the edge.
During the two games Fisher missed against Washington State and Arizona, the Ducks gave up 12 of their season total 31 sacks. When Fisher returned for the UCLA game, Oregon’s offensive line coach Steve Greatwood told USA Today that Fisher’s presence on the line eased the minds of his teammates, especially Mariota:
Putting Jake back over there now, the rest of the group has a calming effect. They know it’s gonna be handled. For Marcus, too, it calms him, because his backside should be covered.
At 6-foot-6, 308-pounds, the general consensus in draft circles is that the former high school tight end and Scout.com four-star recruit would most likely start at right tackle, a position tailored to blocking for the run game.
Fisher has the quickness and versatility to play both left and right tackle and could find himself at either position depending on the team and its needs. Here is the bottom line analysis of Fisher, according to NFL.com:
If you are a zone-based team looking for an athletic, well-schooled tackle who can come in and compete for a starting position right away, then Fisher is your guy. He has the feet to play the left side and is savvy enough in the run game to man the right side. He needs more weight on his frame, but guard is also an option for Fisher.
In an ESPN hosted teleconference, NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. shared his thoughts on the Traverse City West High School star with FishDuck.com:
“They were averaging 40 plus points with him, they drop down to 30 without him,” Kiper told FishDuck.com. “It was a monumental difference. He comes back against UCLA and he doesn’t allow a sack. His difference, what he meant to that offensive line was vital and critical. He can be a left tackle maybe, but certainly a right tackle. I think he’s, right now, maybe a late first round pick,” Kiper said.
At the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, Fisher gave himself a bump in pay grade. As a top performer in the 40-yard dash (5.01 seconds) and vertical jump (32.5″) and best amongst offensive lineman in the 3-cone drill (7.25 seconds) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.33 seconds), Fisher received a final grade of 5.69, translating from sabermetrics to English as a “strong chance at a starting position” in the NFL.
So who is looking for a versatile, aggressive, and reliable offensive tackle? With the 28th pick in the first round, Gary Kubiak’s Denver Broncos could be a perfect fit for Oregon’s former lineman. Kubiak is well-known for his zone blocking schemes, relying on tenacious, quick, and physically expressive linemen to hold the line.
Gary Kubiak covets a certain type of tackle for his offense and Jake Fisher is that kind of tackle so Denver could be a landing spot for him — Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) March 21, 2015
Fisher’s qualities fit the bill for Kubiak’s brand of offense. And with a new coach comes a new, reorganized offense, opening up potential starting spots for the headstrong rookie.
The magnitude of Fisher’s absence from Oregon’s offensive line — along with the loss of fellow linemen Hroniss Grasu (NFL Draft hopeful) and Andre Yruretagoyena (retired) – won’t be felt until September.
Duck fans can find some solace in watching their favorite players grind it out on Sundays. And it appears that Fisher is destined for the NFL. But just like Mariota, where he lands will remain a mystery, if just for another week.
Top photo by Kevin Cline