Daily Focus: Eric Fisher extension based on potential, not past performance
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Chiefs’ extension of Eric Fisher’s contract based more on potential than performance: On Saturday, the Chiefs handed out a four-year, $63 million extension to former No. 1 pick Eric Fisher. It’s a move predicated on future performance, but it’s still a curious signing given that Fisher’s first three seasons of play haven’t been great. A college left tackle, Fisher spent his rookie season on the right side and played poorly, especially as a pass-blocker, finishing the year with the fifth-worst overall grade among all NFL OTs. He switched back to the left side in 2014, and although he improved slightly in both pass-protection and run-blocking, his marks were still far below average—his overall grade ranked 76th of 84 qualifying tackles.
Looking at his 2015 season alone, however, you can perhaps see why the Chiefs were willing to bank on Fisher going forward. While his grades were still negative in both facets, Fisher improved significantly in pass-protection, allowing a career-low 33 pressures during the regular season. That put his grade in the middle of the pack at the position (36th-ranked), which isn’t ideal, but that level of improvement gives hope that he can do it again with another offseason under his belt. At the very least, Fisher has been durable with 2,842 snaps played over three years, including more than 1,000 in both 2014 and 2015.
What impact will NT Ian William’s absence have on 49ers’ defense? Bad news out of 49ers camp over the weekend, as the team put nose tackle Ian Williams on the reserve/non-football injury list, ending his 2016 season. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, Williams logged just 52 snaps over his first three seasons before emerging as a key player in San Francisco’s defense over the last two years. He had an outstanding 2014 season in a rotational role, compiling a strongly positive overall grade in only 219 snaps, which put him among the NFL’s most-productive interior defenders on a per-snap basis. That was also reflected in his run-stop rate, which ranked third among 82 qualifying DTs.
His 2015 season was similarly impressive; in an increased role (677 snaps), Williams was San Francisco’s highest-graded defender overall, with a run-defense mark that ranked seventh among interior defenders, although he was just average as a pass-rusher. Only six players recorded more defensive stops than Williams’ 37 last season, and four of them played at least 250 more snaps.
That level of production will be difficult to replace. The likely candidate is third-year player Mike Purcell, who logged 294 snaps last season in backup nose tackle duty, but graded below-average overall in that span, despite a solid mark in run-defense. Can he step up in an increased role? Otherwise, Williams’ absence should mean more snaps for the rest of the 49ers’ defensive-line rotation, including rookie DeForest Buckner (Oregon), whom the team took seventh overall and was the highest-graded interior defender in the FBS last season.
What does return of RT Anthony Davis mean for 49ers’ O-line? Another interesting story out of San Francisco this weekend was the return of right tackle Anthony Davis, who rejoined the team after a brief, one-season retirement. Davis was a staple on the team’s offensive line over his first five seasons, averaging more than 1,000 snaps per year after being drafted 11th overall in 2010. His pass protection wasn’t great (earning a well-below-average career grade), although he did manage two seasons of above-average grades there. Where he stood out was in the run game, posting positive grades in that facet every year, including his peak during the team’s 2012 Super Bowl-losing season, which he finished as the top-graded right tackle in run blocking (third among all tackles).
Davis is reportedly down significantly from his original playing weight of over 360 pounds, which may make him more nimble in pass-protection. Will he be able to maintain his form in run-blocking, in addition to shaking off the rust that comes with missing an entire season? The 49ers could definitely use the help after a rough season on the offensive line. Erik Pears signed a two-year deal last offseason following a subpar 2014 campaign in Buffalo, and he graded even worse in 2015, ranking 57th out of 76 tackles overall in 14 games at RT before finishing the season at right guard. He allowed 45 combined pressures in those 14 games, and was one of just 15 tackles with a double-digit penalty count. Davis, even at his worst, would be an upgrade, especially in the run game, where the 49ers as a team averaged just 4.0 yards per carry—a lower mark than in any of Davis’ five seasons.