The NFL Draft is this week, which might confuse those of you who own TVs and figured it occurs every day of the year. The draft, like Metta World Peace, has its own language, and many of us can only pretend to understand it. Cornerbacks with "fluid hips" are highly coveted. "Straight-line speed" is disturbing, but it can come in handy during field sobriety tests. Running backs with an "upright style" struggle to stay healthy, and also look out of place at Passover seders, when everybody is reclining.
It's the simple terms that get you, though, because their meanings seem so obvious, but aren't. Like "risk."
There is a risk in drafting any player; the risks just vary in magnitude and form. BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah didn't even try football until he was cut from BYU's basketball team. His limited playing history makes him a risk. ESPN just reported that Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner has undergone five surgeries. Those make him an injury risk. LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo is a risk because of the thin history of players named "Barkevious." (Also: "Mingo.")
And this brings us to Eric Fisher, the offensive tackle from Central Michigan who is expected to be a top-five pick. Some people think he will be the best tackle from this draft; others think Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M will be the best; and some really like Lane Johnson of Oklahoma. Any of them could be right. It will probably depend largely on health.
The risk with Fisher is supposed to be that he played for Central Michigan, in the Mid-American Conference, against lesser competition. And that certainly is a fair point. But if you dig, you might find that playing at Central Michigan makes Fisher seem like a sure thing.
Last September, as Fisher walked into his home stadium for a game against Michigan State, he told his position coach, Mike Cummings, that he expected to have a great game. The matchup was significant, not just for the team, but for Fisher. For most of the game, he would face Spartans star William Gholston, one of the most talented defensive players in the country. Gholston grew up in Detroit. He was a five-star recruit, one of the best players to come out of the state in the last decade.
Fisher grew up in Rochester, Mich. Michigan State did not want him. Michigan did not want him. Nobody in the Big Ten offered him a scholarship. And it's easy to look back now and wonder why they were all so stupid -- Fisher will be picked well before anybody in the Big Ten. But the truth is, Big Ten schools would have looked crazy if they did want him.
Fisher had moved from linebacker to offensive line late in his high school career. There was no indication he would be a great college football player. And yet ... there was Fisher, playing great against Gholston. How did this happen? The nice story would be that Fisher always believed he would make it to the NFL. But NFL teams should be more encouraged by the truth: He just loves football. He loves playing it as well as he can.
Fisher gave up one sack last year, against Toledo, and was so mad at himself that he spewed profanities and promised it wouldn't happen again. It didn't. He sort of made up for it against Eastern Michigan, when he faced two blitzers, and successfully blocked one with each arm. Against Miami (Ohio), Central Michigan killed four minutes late in the fourth quarter, then punted down to the Miami five-yard-line. Central Michigan led 28-16 with 1:28 left. The game was over. But Fisher was livid about leaving time on the clock.
One summer, he spent his weekends chopping wood and landscaping, and his weekdays watching film and lifting. Cummings' only worry was that Fisher worked out too much. After coaches' meetings, Cummings would frequently see texts from Fisher, who had been watching film by himself and wanted to share his insights.
He became something of an oversized football savant. One spring, CMU's top three centers were injured, so the coaches asked Fisher to play center. He did so for six practices. They never even had to tell him how to make line calls. He knew them.
"I was shocked he could do it so easy," Cummings said.
As you might expect, Fisher dominated practices. But that was not enough for him. He is a perfectionist. "If he felt he didn't do something well in practice, he would ask if he could work on it the next day," Cummings said. "That's something that is just in his character, part of his makeup. He wants to be an engineer. You see guys that are good players, they just want to play football. If he got a C in class, he was fired up to let me know he got an A so he is back up to a B (average)."
What does this have to do with risk? Well, some guys get to the NFL and think they have made it. They get that first paycheck and coast. For many, it is a lifelong dream just to play in the league, and that's enough for them. Most top players at top college programs had the NFL in mind in high school. But pro football is a physically brutal game, and a lot of players find, after a while, that they don't really enjoy it as much as they thought they would.
Eric Fisher just loves football. He loves playing it well. That part of his football resume is no-risk -- and we only know this about Fisher because he played at Central Michigan. True character is revealed when nobody is watching. Fisher is about to fulfill a dream -- not his dream, but his next position coach's dream. That coach will love his new prospect.
"We're on the road trying to find the next Eric Fisher right now," Cummings said. "You just gotta keep looking, right? They're out there."
"They gotta be."