The forgotten No. 1: Has Chiefs' Eric Fisher proved worthy of top pick?

Kansas City took Eric Fisher No. 1 overall in the 2013 NFL draft, and while he's had his ups and downs, the Chiefs don't worry about left tackle anymore. "He's had his struggles, but that kid has never turned down from a fight." Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

What Eric Fisher helped his team achieve on the night of Feb. 2, 2020, was exactly the thing the Kansas City Chiefs had in mind seven years earlier when they picked him with the top overall selection of the NFL draft.

Fisher was the starting left tackle when the Chiefs won the franchise's first Super Bowl championship in 50 years by beating the San Francisco 49ers. That game was played at Hard Rock Stadium outside of Miami, where the Chiefs will face the Dolphins on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Becoming a contributor on a championship team is the basic expectation for any player chosen with the No. 1 overall pick. But Fisher's career hasn't been exactly what the Chiefs expected. He struggled early, at right tackle as a rookie and at left tackle ever since, to the point where it looked like he would be a spectacular bust.

He has improved since then, even making a Pro Bowl in 2018. His Pro Football Focus grade has gone up almost every year, dramatically so from his difficult rookie season of 2013.

Still, he's generally considered the lesser of the Chiefs' usual starting tackles, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz being the other.

"He's not elite, but he is the starting left tackle on the most prolific offense," said ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum, a former general manager with the Dolphins and Jets. "He's a good athlete, not a great athlete. His strength is good, not great. He does everything just good enough. He's a good player, [but] he's not dominant. You don't see those flash plays. But there's a lot to like about his game. I've been around a lot worse left tackles than him.

"He's been a guy that's had a good career but will never probably live up to that first pick overall, kind of like Alex Smith. But I'm sure the Chiefs are still glad they have him. Of all of the things you have to worry about from a team-building standpoint, to know that you have a good left tackle, that's one less spot that Brett [Veach, the Chiefs' GM] and Andy [Reid, coach] have to worry about."

The Chiefs didn't pass on a large collection of future stars when they selected Fisher. The 2013 draft wasn't a strong one. Many first-round selections from that year didn't work out.

Some did, such as Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, but he was drafted 27th by the Houston Texans.

Of the 32 first-round picks in 2013, 12 -- including Fisher -- have been selected for a Pro Bowl. Five of the players have been a first-team All-Pro.

"With all of this time in the offseason, I've had a chance to reflect on the growth I've had in my career going from the first overall pick and then working my way to a Pro Bowl and winning a Super Bowl," Fisher said during training camp.

"As far as individual honors, if I could find a way to have my first All-Pro year, that would be something special. It's something I'm working for, and then to just keep building and being consistent, staying on top of my stuff and not getting complacent, not saying, 'OK, I've reached my potential.' Just keep building on what I've been building for the last eight years."

The Chiefs need Fisher because they haven't invested a lot in their offensive line beyond taking him at No. 1 and signing Schwartz to a large contract during free agency ahead of the 2016 season. But Schwartz hasn't played in almost two months because of a back injury.

Among their other line starters on Sunday night against the Broncos, Austin Reiter was a waiver claim, Nick Allegretti was a seventh-round draft pick and Andrew Wylie was released by three different teams before signing with the Chiefs. Mike Remmers signed as a free agent during the offseason, but for the veteran-minimum salary.

ESPN statistics aren't flattering of Fisher's play this season. They show Fisher to be 40th of 65 qualifying offensive tackles this year in pass-block win rate (86.4%) and 66th among 68 qualifying tackles in run-block win rate (66.3%).

"He's had his struggles, but that kid has never turned down from a fight," Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. "He's found a way to persevere through adversity. He'll tell you he hasn't had a lot of proud moments, but one thing you see as his confidence started to develop, as he overcame all the injuries, he started changing his body by developing the strength he needed.

"You combine all of that, and now he's starting to step up and do a lot of good things. Now, you've got to understand he plays a position that's always going to be criticized because he's the left tackle. But with that comes a great deal of expectations. He understands that, 'Hey, I have to be on top of my game each and every day.' The kid has taken giant steps forward. We want to continue to see him grow in that right direction."

Fisher didn't play in college at a Power 5 school but instead at Central Michigan. His adjustment to the NFL was an extended one. He wasn't strong enough to anchor well against power pass-rushers when he was a rookie. He had shoulder surgery in the offseason afterward, delaying his progress. The Chiefs list Fisher at 315 pounds, nine more than when he was a rookie.

"Typically, those linemen that get drafted No. 1 are ready-made offensive linemen, Hall of Fame offensive linemen," said Geoff Schwartz, Mitch's brother and the Chiefs' starting right guard in Fisher's rookie season. "He just wasn't at the time. He just wasn't ready to be the player he is now when he was a rookie. It took him a while to understand what this was about in the NFL. I think Eric just got overwhelmed with expectations.

"I've been impressed with his improvement. Obviously he's very good now. But it was a rough go that first year. It was tough. I didn't know if he would get there. It was just hard for him, and I've seen guys crumble after that. I'm glad he did. I give him a lot of credit for how he's gone to a Pro Bowl-level player."

The Chiefs deserve some credit for sticking with Fisher early in his career, when his play at many times warranted a benching.

"Like any young player, you go through some ups and downs," said Chiefs line coach Andy Heck, a first-round draft pick in 1989 who played 12 NFL seasons at tackle. "You go through some struggles. In the end, it makes you better for it because you've pushed through. When you come in as the No. 1 pick in the draft, there's a level of expectation, whether that's [realistic] or not. A player feels that. If you look at what's real, he was a young guy and he had to learn how to play in this league. He's got to learn the competition he's going against.

"I was a young left tackle in this league myself. It took me a while. I didn't play my best ball until my seventh year. So by that, I'd say Fish is miles ahead of where I was."