When it comes to Central Michigan and the NFL Draft, one name immediately comes to mind: Eric Fisher. The big tackle out of the Detroit suburbs made history last year as the first MAC player to be drafted first overall. While Fisher had dominated all of the MAC defenses he had faced, it was not until his rise during the weeks leading up to the draft that allowed him to go from first round pick to potential first overall pick. After a visit to Mount Pleasant for Fisher's pro day, it was clear to Andy Reid and the Chiefs front office that Fisher was going to their guy on draft day.
Beyond Eric Fisher, the Chippewas have a substantial draft history dating back to 1946, when Ben Wall was drafted in the 18th round by the Detroit Lions. Recent success has led to a resurgence of CMU players in the NFL draft, with a record 3 Chippewas being drafted in 2007.
Central Michigan Chippewas Draft History
|Walter Beach||Defensive Back||1960||15||12||Giants|
|Billy Sinkule||Defensive End||1968||9||12||Cardinals|
|Dave Farris||Tight End||1970||15||5||Bills|
|Mick Natzel||Defensive Back||1971||13||22||Raiders|
|Jessie Lakes||Running Back||1972||13||7||Packers|
|Tom Ray||Defensive Back||1975||17||9||Packers|
|James Jones||Defensive Back||1976||13||5||Patriots|
|Robert Jackson||Defensive Back||1981||11||9||Bengals|
|Mike Hirn||Tight End||1982||9||13||Steelers|
|Jim Bowman||Defensive Back||1985||2||24||Patriots|
|Curtis Adams||Running Back||1985||8||11||Chargers|
|Donnie Riley||Running Back||1990||12||4||Cardinals|
|J.J. Wierenga||Defensive End||1991||11||11||Packers|
|Dan Bazuin||Defensive End||2007||2||30||Bears|
|Antonio Brown||Wide Reciever||2010||6||26||Steelers|
While it wouldn't surprise me if Dick Kackmeister finds his way into a future Key & Peele draft skit, only a handful of the early CMU draftees had significant professional careers. The first draft pick to pick to have any sort of professional success was Jim Podeley, who made two Pro Bowls during his five year NFL career as a running back for the Washington Redskins. CMU's first noteworthy defensive player was Walter Beach, who spent several years as an NFL safety. While Beach had no major individual accolades to speak of, he was the first Chippewa in the NFL to win a championship, which he did as a member of the 1964 Cleveland Browns.
The first Chippewa draft pick to have a lengthy and noteworthy career was Gary Hogeboom. After being drafted by the Cowboys in 1980, Hogeboom would spend four years moving up the Cowboys depth chart. Unfortunately, he squandered his chance to start in 1984, being replaced by Danny White midway through the season. Hogeboom would later briefly start for the Indianapolis Colts before his professional football career ended in 1990. More recently, Hogeboom was a contestant on Survivor: Guatemala.
Besides Hogeboom, the only two other 1980s draft picks to pan out were both taken in 1985. Curtis Adams played four seasons in the NFL as a running back for the San Diego Chargers, totaling just under 1,000 yards rushing for his career. Jim Bowman was a starting safety for the Patriots during the late 1980s, running up a 71 game playing streak from 1985-1989. A knee injury ended his career prematurely in 1990, but he has continued to remain involved with the Patriots organization to this day.
The last Chippewa draft pick of the 20th century made the most out of being a seventh round pick. Scott Rehberg played seven seasons in the NFL and started 13 games for the Cleveland Browns in 1999. After leaving the Browns, Rehberg spent four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, starting 14 games between 2000 and 2003, after which he retired from the NFL.
Out of CMU's picks within the past decade, several players are no longer playing professional football. The most notable of these is Dan Bazuin. Bazuin was an explosive defensive end during his time at CMU and was the MVP of the East-West Shrine Game prior to the draft. Bears GM Jerry Angelo decided that Bazuin would make a terrific addition to the Bears' defense, and in 2007, used his second round pick on Bazuin. However, a knee injury cost Bazuin his rookie season, and when a second knee injury looked to derail his 2008 season, the Bears decided to cut ties. Bazuin attempted to continue to his football career elsewhere, but he never played a down in the NFL. The other recent Chippewa picks not playing football anymore are Adam Kieft, Drew Mormino, and Eric Ghiaciuc.
Until Eric Fisher, CMU's most highly touted professional success was Joe Staley. After starting his college career as a tight end, Staley went on to become a dominant force on the Chippewa offensive line. Staley had a strong showing at the NFL Combine and was drafted 28th overall in the 2007 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers, who traded up to take him. Spending his entire career thus far in San Francisco, Staley has been a Pro Bowl and All-Pro lineman for three consecutive years, serving as a vital part of the offensive line behind which Colin Kaepernick thrives. Staley seems to currently be at the peak of his career and should be an elite NFL lineman for several seasons to come.
Arguably the greatest football player in CMU history, Dan LeFevour has had a somewhat disappointing professional career. After setting numerous records and earning countless awards and accolades, LeFevour was drafted in the 6th round by the Chicago Bears, who released him only a few months later. After spending his rookie season buried on the Cincinnati Bengals depth chart, LeFevour bounced around the pros before finally winding up in Canada, where he now serves as a backup QB for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. While his professional career lives on, a return to the NFL for CMU's most beloved quarterback seems unlikely at this point.
The most successful skill player to come out of Central was taken 14 picks after his quarterback. Antonio Brown was an electric talent for the Chippewas but was subject to some criticism following his decision to leave for the big leagues after only his junior year. Many people felt another year of success at the college level would improve his draft stock for 2011. These people seemed to be vindicated when Brown fell to the end of the 6th round, taken 195th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who hoped Brown could serve as a return man and provide needed depth at receiver.
Starting his career with an 89-yard touchdown return off a reverse, Antonio Brown would soon become a favorite target of Ben Roethlisberger and a fan favorite in Pittsburgh. Signed to a long-term extension with the Steelers before the 2012 season, Brown had a career year in 2013. His 1,499 receiving yards broke the Steelers all-time record for most receiving yards in a season, and Brown became the only player in NFL history to record 5 receptions and at least 50 yards receiving in every game during a season. After his career year, Brown enters the 2014 season as the biggest offensive weapon in the Steelers arsenal.
Finally, we reach Eric Fisher. A two-star defensive recruit out of high school, Fisher committed to Butch Jones and CMU in 2008. After moving to the offensive side of the ball and putting on a good bit of weight, Fisher served as a backup lineman in 2009. After an injury to CMU starter Jake Olson in 2010, Fisher moved into a starting role for the Chippewas that he would never relinquish. Fisher's best year was his senior season in 2012. Starting all 12 games, Fisher anchored a CMU offensive line that averaged 6.2 yards per play and only allowed 14 sacks on the season.
Fisher was always considered to be a first round draft pick, but his stock skyrocketed in the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft. Perhaps the biggest asset to this ascent was Fisher's performance in the Senior Bowl, after which he became a consensus top ten draft pick. Also helping Fisher's stock were the decisions of both Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews to return for their senior seasons at Michigan and Texas A&M respectively; both were rated higher than Fisher at the time of their announcements. Nonetheless, Fisher had plenty of competition at his position heading into draft day, which included Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson. In the end, it was Eric Fisher that the Kansas City Chiefs selected with the first overall draft pick.
Going into his rookie year with high expectations, Fisher had an underwhelming first season. Fisher consistently struggled against the brute force and speed of NFL defensive linemen. A particular low point was an early season matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. While the Chiefs won the game, Fisher gave up two sacks and was called twice for holding in front of a Thursday night TV audience. Injuries would derail the end of Fisher's season, and he recently has had both shoulder and hernia surgeries during this off season. Fisher hopes to be ready by the beginning of the season and is projected to replace Branden Albert at left tackle after spending his rookie season at right tackle.
With no CMU players projected to be drafted this year, Fisher will likely remain the most recent Central draftee. Fisher's legacy is still many years away from being determined, but he must improve his game in order to not be considered a major draft bust as the first overall pick. Still, Fisher's standing in MAC history will not fade away, and he will never be surpassed as the highest drafted player in the history of the conference.