In today's pass-happy NFL that sees quarterbacks making 30-50 passes per game, the offensive tackle position has become more important than ever before.
Without a good pair of tackles, quarterbacks get brutalized and often injured. No one wants to see their $15-20 million passer on the sideline, and having a great pair of tackles can ensure that's less likely to happen.
Just look at the Bengals, who had a streak of starting quarterbacks make 109 straight starts (Carson Palmer made 32 from 2009-10 and Andy Dalton made 77 from 2011-15) since 2009. A big reason was because both Palmer and Dalton rarely had to worry about pressure coming from their blind side as Andrew Whitworth locked down the left tackle spot.
That's why the Bengals drafted not one, but two offensive tackles in the 2015 NFL draft. The second came in the form of Oregon All-American tackle Jake Fisher in the second round.
Fisher, who was selected with the No. 53 overall pick, started 13 games at left tackle during his final season in college (and played in 51 games in his Oregon career) and helped Oregon reach the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship game in 2015. In Fisher's two missed games, both due to a leg injury, the Ducks gave up 12 of their season total of 31 sacks allowed.
Following his final season, Fisher was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. Though he was viewed by many as a top-40 prospect and possible first-round pick, Fisher fell to the Bengals at pick No. 53, and though they had already taken Cedric Ogbuehi with the 21st pick, they couldn't resist taking the man they'd fallen in love with.
But with Cincinnati already having Whitworth at left tackle, where most expected Fisher to play in the NFL, the rookie rarely saw the field during his first professional season. He ended up getting snaps at right tackle and as a swing lineman in big formations while also catching one pass for 31 yards vs the San Diego Chargers in Week 2.
All of this came before an injury to Ryan Hewitt forced Fisher to move to h-back in Week 17. While it's a small sample size, Fisher would play in 30 snaps over the final two games (Week 17 vs Baltimore and the Wild Card game vs Pittsburgh) as the Bengals rushed for an average of 118 yards (4.6 yards per rush) in those games. 145 of those yards on 27 carries came against the Ravens' 12th-ranked run defense, while 91 yards on 24 runs came vs the Steelers' fifth-ranked run defense.
Considering the Bengals ran for an average of just 3.9 yards per game during the 2015 season, that may have shown that Fisher as an h-back can be a very valuable addition to this offense. With Whit being back next season, maybe Fisher can make an impact on next year's team via h-back.
But as far as his long-term future goes, Fisher is a tackle, and probably the left tackle when Whit calls it quits. It's also possible Fisher becomes the starting right tackle next season with Andre Smith hitting free agency with little expectation he'll be back.
Of all the Bengals' rookies from 2015, it might be hardest to project Fisher's 2016 outlook, but one thing is for sure. Expect him to see the field in 2016 a lot more, while making an impact on a team that should have a good shot at making it back to the postseason.