Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater
In the summer of 2019, Matt Miller's mock draft for 2020 had the Rams using their first round pick to select Paddy Fisher, the LB from Northwestern. Luke Easterling's mock also had the Rams taking Fisher in the 1st round. 3k on TST at the time compared Fisher to James Laurinaitis. Is Fisher still a 1st round prospect? Is he still a candidate for the Rams at ILB?
The Rams traded that 1st round pick to the Jaguars as part of the Jalen Ramsey deal. If the Rams had kept that pick, one LB they could have taken at that slot was Kenneth Murray from Oklahoma. As a rookie for the Chargers, Murray had a 54.4 PFF grade and had 107 tackles. He led the team in tackles and started all 16 games. Troy Reeder had a higher PFF grade than Murray last season.
Other 1st round picks in Miller's early mock draft included Kenny Willekes (7th round pick), Trey Adams (UDFA), Walker Little as the 2nd overall pick, Jake Fromm 4th overall (5th round), Jacob Eason (4th round and 3rd string QB as a rookie) and Dylan Moses 9th overall. Media draft experts and NFL scouts didn't seem to be on the same page about Fisher. According to one source, NFL scouts graded Fisher as at best a 5th round prospect in the summer of 2019.
In another era of NFL football, I bet Fisher would be selected in the early rounds of the draft. My comp for Fisher is Ted Johnson, who played at Colorado. Johnson was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1995 draft by the Patriots. He won 3 Super Bowl rings with the Pats and was a key member of their defense for a number of years. During the Spygate scandal, Johnson discussed in an interview how many times, just before the game, the Pats would give him a sheet with a list of all of the audibles for the opponent. He said that he had no idea where the info came from, the list just magically showed up and was handed to him. Whether you think Johnson is a whistleblower or just a bitter ex-Pat with an axe to grind with his former team and coach, he was a good linebacker for the Pats and a good draft pick.
At the 1995 Combine, according to the NFL Combine Results database, 18 ILBs were timed in the 40. Half of them (9 out of 18) ran 4.9 seconds or slower. 78% of them ran 4.8 seconds or slower. This was the year that Mike Mamula revolutionized combine prep by specifically training for the testing events, catapulting him from being a middle round prospect all the way to the 7th overall pick. The Combine would never be the same after that year.
Ted Johnson ran 4.84 seconds in the 40 at the Combine. Fisher is a big, slow LB who doesn't fit the modern NFL game. In 1995, he would have fit right in with the other ILBs. The echoes from violent collisions between Johnson and FBs would reverberate through the stadium. Not surprisingly, he had a series of concussions in his career and retired after the 2004 season due to his concussion history. In 1996, his 2nd year in the NFL, Johnson was the starting MLB for the Pats under Bill Parcells and led the team in tackles.
Johnson was part of a very strong core of players drafted during the Parcells era. The Pats didn't let Parcells "shop for all the groceries", but those players became the foundation for the beginning of the dynasty under Belichick and Tom Brady. Without those players, I don't think it is an exaggeration at all to think that Belichick might have gotten fired in NE. He was already on the hot seat. The entire course of his career and Tom Brady's career might have been altered but for the contributions from players like Ted Johnson.
The job requirements for a LB in the NFL have changed. There aren't FBs for them to smash their facemasks into every play. Today, LBs need to be able to cover RBs and TEs. In 1995, Marshall Faulk had less than 500 receiving yards playing for the Colts. Alvin Kamara has averaged over 700 receiving yards during his NFL career. Faulk changed the NFL, but even Faulk himself wasn't being used the same way in 1995 that he would be with the GSOT Rams. Christian McCaffrey had 1,005 receiving yards in 2019. In 1995, Faulk, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders combined had 1,248 receiving yards.
Higbee and GE are solid, but not elite TEs. Maybe their stats would have been better if Goff had played better in 2020. Still, I don't see any Rams fans going around calling them All Pro talents. This is how their combined catches and receiving yards compare to the top 2 TEs on the rosters of teams who had Pro Bowl TEs in 1995:
Patriots (Ben Coates, Pro Bowl) 113 catches 1,051 yards
Rams (Higbee and GE) 85 for 938
Broncos (Shannon Sharpe, Pro Bowl) 75 for 880
Packers (Mark Chmura, Pro Bowl) 67 for 821
Cowboys (Jay Novacek, Pro Bowl) 69 for 758
Niners (Brent Jones, Pro Bowl) 76 for 723
NFL football in 2021 is not the same game compared to 1995. Ted Johnson in the 2nd round was drafted 13 slots after a fullback. He was taken one slot after a punter. The Packers FB, Williams Henderson, who Johnson would repeatedly slam into in the Super Bowl, was the second pick of the 3rd round. Another FB was taken in the 3rd round after him. The same that FBs are not either late round picks or not drafted at all in today's era is essentially the same reason that LBs like Paddy Fisher don't have the same value today as they did back in 1995.
Northwestern's coach, Pat Fitzgerald, was a great linebacker in college during that era. He was a junior in 1995, one of the best LBs in college football. I remember watching NW lose handily to ND in 1994 and thinking "Man, that NW team is almost there. They are well coached. They might not be competitive right now, but they look like they have something cooking." At that time, NW was one of the worst programs in college football. I can't even remember when they had last had a winning season. In 1995, NW won the Big Ten and went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in forever. It was an underdog season for the ages. Today, NW can play Ohio State in the conference title game and it isn't a surprise anymore. The national champion that season was Nebraska, who crushed Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. Now, Nebraska is more like how NW used to be. How things change in football in just one generation.
6' 3.5'' tall, 239 pounds, 79 5/8'' wingspan, 32.5'' arms, 9 5/8'' hands (Senior Bowl measurements)
His size and length are comparable to Baron Browning.
3 star recruit from Texas. Was 6'3'' tall and 225 pounds in HS. His father passed away from cancer in 2010 at the age of 46.
Lott IMPACT Trophy winner for 2020. James Laurinaitis won this award in 2008. Other winners include JJ Watt and Luke Kuechly.
Academic all conference (Learning and Organizational Change major)
Team captain in 2019
2020: 86 tackles (41 solo) INT, FF, 3 PD
2019: 89 tkl (39 solo) sack, INT, 2 FF, 4 PD
2018: 116 tkl (63 solo) sack, INT, 4 FF, 3 PD
2017: 113 tkl (65 solo) INT, 4 FF, 4 PD
Career: 404 tkl, 24.5 TFL, 14 PD, 11 FF, 215 solo, 4 INT, 2 sacks.
6.1% of tackles were for loss, and this rate was the same his first 2 seasons compared to his last 2 seasons. Compare that to Dylan Moses, who has an 11.2% TFL rate for his career at Alabama.
Draft stock was considered to be sky high after 2018, but plummeted in 2019. Critics said that he was very poor in pass coverage. He didn't declare for the 2020 draft and returned to school.
ESPN 157th overall (5th round)
CBSSports not ranked in top 150
PFF not ranked on big board (UDFA range)
Practice reports from the Senior Bowl were generally poor. SI said that Fisher had big troubles in pass coverage and was beaten repeatedly by simple jukes or even small bursts of speed, that he gave up too much separation against RBs and TEs. They said he was poor as a pass rusher. PFN said he dropped a pass in the catching drill, but that he struggled to flip his hips and had no closing speed.
I was unable to find any info on Fisher having any major injuries in college. He was the MLB in a 4-3 scheme.
Instinctive and smart. Studies film on his own, outside of the points raised by coaches in the positional meetings. Tries to pick up on small details to help him scout opponents and read the plays faster.
Pretty good hand usage. Sometimes able to push the hand of the lineman up, preventing them from grabbing him. Uses hands to swipe away hands of blockers. Can dip his shoulder under blockers to avoid them.
LT on combo block. Fisher pushes inside hand of LT up, then uses his inside arm to hold off the LT, keeping his outside arm free, then disengages and tackles the RB.
Uses long arm to stack RG, then spins off of it to tackle the RB.
Attacks decisively. Takes initiative and attacks when he reads the play, not passive. Aggressively attacks LT block at 2nd level instead of waiting for block to get to him.
Keeps hands low and moves around the field with lower center of gravity.
Can knock ball out and cause fumbles with his length and size.
As pass rusher head on with RG, enough strength to bench press the RG and push him backwards in pocket.
Reads screen pass well to RB. Quickly reads wide run and anticipates hole, runs past LG before he can make block, and is waiting to stuff the RB.
DE engaged with TE. Fisher chargers and slams into the TE with so much force that not only does the TE get knocked on his back, but he tumbles over like a little kid in a gymnastics class.
Delivers some heavy hits on runners when he can size them up.
Reads QB and takes smart angles to quick slant routes. Reads and drives well onto short out route by TE. Doesn't bite on head fake by TE on option route, sticks close to him 5 yards from LOS.
Able to spin out of blocks, though I think he does this too much instead of being able to defeat them directly and faster.
When kept clean by other defenders, can pursue and chop down the RB with authority and power.
Good football character. Enjoys the game, works at his craft. Can be depended on to prepare and be professional. Leadership ability, team captain type personality.
Too slow. Wide toss to RB. 5 yards to first down. Not enough speed burst to beat RB to edge and defend the first down marker. Sees handoff to RB on zone read, but not enough speed to burst to RB.
Poor agility, change of direction and flexibility. Almost always, unable to redirect his body and turn laterally to tackle the RB, causing him to miss the tackle. Whether he is in space and not blocked or he is in tight quarters and just went past a blocker and has a shot at the RB, the situations are identical. He needs to angle 90 degrees and grab the RB and he's not agile enough to make this play in time, even though he has decent height and length.
Frequently, he does good job splitting blockers, or slipping around blockers, but then misses the RB, because he can't get his body momentum going back to the side to wrap up the RB. When RBs cutback, struggles to mirror and take them down.
Beaten on cutback on zone runs. Flowed too far over center's block. Not agile enough, lack of change of direction to recover on zone runs if he overpursues. Trying to cover multiple gaps, misses tackle on RB due to lack of agility, leading to long run. "In the box" type of LB who needs action funneled inside to him, can't chase it outside of his area.
Gets occupied with too many hand fights, and doesn't win them quickly enough. Forced to give up too much ground and spin backwards to try to disengage from 2nd level blockers. Walker Little gave him problems (this was the game he injured his knee.)
Gets caught too square to blocks when he doesn't prepare in time or doesn't engage his hands with the right technique. Misses his punch and ends up catching the TE, who drives Fisher way out of his gap. Too square to the center and gets jolted backwards by shove. Same thing, goes flying backwards on shove. Another time, center grabs him and throws him to the ground.
Hips too stiff to turn and run with TE in coverage. Grabs RB when he can't stay with them in coverage. Too slow to run and carry the TE down the seam.
Inconsistent switching coverage assignments on time in zone. Sometimes, he anticipates it very well and is in position. Other times, he's late and gets caught behind. Since he has zero makeup speed, there's no way he can recover and prevent separation when he's late.
Had easy INT bounce right off of hands.
Got fooled by option play and ran after RB when QB had the ball.
Doesn't get enough depth in zone when he's lined up over the center. Can't squeeze windows in zone, needs about 2 more steps of depth, but can't get there in time. Slide step drop in coverage, there is a delay when he tries to change direction and go back the other way.
As unblocked blitzer, not enough speed to get close to the QB and hurry him.
Not much special teams value. Maybe could be blocker in the place of TE or OL. His lack of speed and lack of agility make him a poor candidate as a coverage player for KO and punts.
I don't see any developmental upside with him. Probably already as good as he's going to be.
Pro Comparison and Grade
Ted Johnson (2nd round 1995, Patriots.) Late round grade.
The strengths and weaknesses for Fisher are similar to those for Evan Weaver from Cal last year. I like Fisher a little better, because he has more length than Weaver, but overall they are about the same.
Weaver was 6'2'' and 237 pounds, with 31 5/8'' arms and a 77 1/8'' wingspan. He ran 4.76 sec in the 40. He was a 6th round pick and a PS player as a rookie. So, Weaver is a little shorter with a smaller wingspan compared to Fisher. Like Fisher, Weaver piled up a ton of tackles in college, but their career numbers are similar. Weaver's TFL ratio was 5.8%, slightly lower than Fisher. Weaver only had 2 FF, compared to 11 forced fumbles by Fisher.
Luka Garza is a great college basketball player at Iowa. Most people think he's not a good NBA prospect, because he's not a quick enough player to defend. That's essentially the situation with Paddy Fisher. He's a very good college linebacker, but his skill set doesn't translate well to the NFL game. The NFL has become a space game with fast, quick skill players. Fisher isn't a good enough athlete to keep up with them.
Can Fisher be better than Troy Reeder? Maybe, it depends what you are looking for.
At his pro day, Reeder measured 6'1'' tall (The Rams list him at 6'3''. Did he suddenly grow 2 inches? Maybe the team gave him some banned substances that made him bigger) 235 pounds (Rams have him at 245) with a 73.75'' wingspan and 29 7/8'' arms (If his arms got longer, I'm calling the Rams cheaters. I don't know any 26 year old men who suddenly hit a growth spurt.) He doesn't have the length of Fisher and has short arms to be a LB (Darius Leonard has arms over 34 inches long and a wingspan of over 82 inches.) Reeder, however, runs faster and is more agile, which is one reason he has special teams value. As a pure run stopper, Fisher likely is better.
If Fisher potentially could come out 3rd in a competition between Kiser (former 5th rounder) and Reeder (former UDFA), that's why I don't have even a middle round grade on him. I see him as just a depth guy to fill out the roster or be on the PS.