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Jake Fisher’s weighty bet

How Jake Fisher is investing in himself changing positions to regain a starting role in the NFL.

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Newly-signed Buffalo Bills tight end Jake Fisher has found himself in a situation not seen often at the NFL level, in where a player switches positions in order to prolong their career. In Fisher’s case, he is switching from offensive tackle to tight end in order to breathe new life into his stalled-out situation.

Fisher was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Oregon. During his time in Cincy, he appeared in 48 games, starting 12 and at times, getting work in during the passing game, accumulating two receptions for 43 yards with no scores. This was due to the fact that Fisher was originally a tight end coming into college but was transitioned to a offensive tackle, garnering success on an offensive line that protected Heisman Trophy winning quarteraback Marcus Mariota. In addition, Fisher also was awarded All-American status by the Football Writers Association of America during his senior season in 2014. Overall, Fisher proved to be an effective player in the trenches and poised to have a promising NFL career.

Despite those accolades coming out of college, immediate success did not follow Fisher as he suffered a number of injuries. Below is a snapshot of his injuries so far in his NFL career.

During this time, he never really had a shot to secure a starting role with the Bengals. As a result, he quickly fell out of favor and did not earn a second contract at the end of his rookie deal. It was also reported that Fisher had difficulty maintaining his weight during his first few years in the league, which led to his eventual transition to tight end.

However, his weight challenges were not a new development as his draft profile even mentions the need to gain weight while listed as 306 lbs. According to later articles, his focus had been to gain weight to secure a starting spot—yet he still had difficulty keeping his weight up, at one point slipping to 279 lbs due to nagging injuries. He was told to bulk up in college and then eventually had difficulty maintaining this increase in weight while playing. To put it simply, Fisher had to consume more calories than he burned and maintain that increased weight. Sounds easy right? Far from it.

There are many articles out there detailing the eating habits of NFL lineman and it is no easy task. “Diets” such as Noah Spense’s 9,000 calorie diet, the Brian O’Neillsee food diet”, and even the Rock’s diet plan are available and outline the dedication required to gain weight. One article about featured Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt indicated that he was consuming 9,000 calories/day in order to play effectively. For a visual, look at what Olympic champion Ryan Lochte had to eat, which he stated was 10,000 calories. Even half of that is a ton of food. Now try to train at your hardest while eating that amount of food.

But we as a society are constantly educated about understanding calories, fatty foods, carbs, etc. We’re convinced that anything we eat will make us fat or it all goes to the hips; everything must be fat-free or sugar-free, low in calories, healthy options. It’s all confusing. To keep it simple, your body requires fuel to power everything that we do from walking, breathing, thinking, keeping warm, etc. In order to fuel the body, tiny units of energy called calories are used. These calories are found in nearly everything we consume. They are present in proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, which the body breaks down to use for fuel.

While our bodies are efficient in using the food and drink we place into it, excess calories consumed are stored in fat cells and held in reserve if needed for future energy use. A normal average diet is considered 2,000 calories, but can vary based on activity levels, sex, and age. This type of diet would maintain one’s body weight. If someone wants to gain weight, as has been the case of Fisher, they have to consume excess calories. To gain a pound of body fat, 3,500 excess calories must be consumed, which means it takes a lot of excess food or calorie-dense foods to gain weight. A sedentary lifestyle would require as many calories to achieve this as an intake of calories and a lack of burning said calories explains why heavy people get heavier. But someone who is pushing their body to its highest level and constantly working out will need to consume more calories to maintain and gain weight, especially for an offensive lineman.

The easy response to this would be to eat lots of food high in fat or calorie-dense foods such as fried food, breads, donuts, fast food, etc. While those foods would assist in weight gain, they would not be very efficient and probably result in the athlete making more trips to the bathroom than the end zone. Think about how you feel after eating a heavy meal of, let’s say, Chinese or McDonald’s. You may feel full but also have an upset stomach later; try working out after meals like that.

So as a result, these fats, proteins, and carbohydrates must be consumed differently, and how these break down vary—which affects what types of foods are best. Clicking on the diets above will reveal foods that are considered healthy or lean but in large and frequent portions. This next section will be very brief as nutrition is complex and trying to go into specific detail while considering the overall profession would be a disservice.

There are fats, carbohydrates, and proteins that fuel our bodies. Proteins and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram of food. Fat has 9 calories per gram of food. Protein breaks down into amino acids that act as building blocks for cells in the body, and aid in tissue growth/healing. Carbohydrates break down into sugar, which provides immediate energy for activity. Fats break down into glycerol, which is energy but a more efficient energy source for consumption over time. This can be stored for future energy use and help regulate hormones. The body uses these foods as fuel when it comes in and allocates the excess fuel to fat as needed. Too much or too little of one of these basic fuels can cause problems. Too much protein can cause kidney problems, heart issues, or bone problems, too little can cause muscle loss or immune system problems. Too many carbohydrates could lead to insulin resistant issues such as diabetes and obesity, too little carbohydrates can result in fatigue, dizziness, and mood changes. Too many fats can cause heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity, among other things. Too little fat results in vitamin deficiencies and mood swings. This is why there is such a focus on eating the proper foods and at certain times maximizing physical activity. A more specific breakdown of the types of foods and effects they have on the body can be found here. Thankfully, the NFL has enlisted many nutrition experts who help players meet their weight goals and identify the best foods for training and maximizing performance.

So far, I’ve identified what the essential nutrients are in the body to power everything we do and how we gain/lose weight. Where does this all tie all into the discussion about Jake Fisher? According to the several articles that outlined his diet, he was doing all the right things. He was eating the proteins, healthy fats, correct carbohydrates. However, at some point, his body just couldn’t hold onto the weight he needed to play at the offensive line partially due to injury. He was attempting to work out as hard as he could, consume a ton of calories to keep his weight artificially elevated, and play at a high level. At some point, something had to give. Fisher couldn’t sit and be lazy, eating garbage in order to gain weight—he couldn’t play at a high level if he did that. He couldn’t work out as hard as he is capable because it’s possible he’d lose too much weight. If he doesn’t work out as hard as he can, he can’t play at a high level. Finally, if he is injured, he can’t practice hard in order to play at a high level. Fisher at one point was able to do this but the amount of effort to maintain weight appeared to take its toll. It appears as though he did this for close to a decade between college and the NFL. Regrettably, this wasn’t helped by his playing multiple positions in the NFL such as tight end and guard along with special teams. If he had just played offensive tackle, he would not have been on the field as often. He’d have specific tasks to perform based on line play, and experience less variety of play types overall. Playing all over has meant he needed to increase his energy output, which requires more calories burned, thus requiring more calories be consumed.

Considering he wasn’t a mainstay on the line and he knew this process wasn’t going to be any easier as he got older, he may have tired of the lifestyle and decided to invest in himself by changing positions. Fisher understood as much as anyone that if he didn’t do something drastic, he’d be on the outside looking in come September. Changing positions may prove to be a boon to his career. He will be able to play at a much lighter weight while still being incredibly large for someone at his position, he clearly has the ability to block from his time as an offensive lineman, and will be able to focus on his abilities as a football player while worrying less about his weight. He may also be able to reduce his injury risk as decreased weight will lead to decreased stress on his joints when running and jumping, allowing him to stay healthier.

Overall, time will tell whether he actually transitions into an effective tight end. He most likely will never be a Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, or Antonio Gates. But if Fisher can be an effective blocking tight end while getting involved in the passing game from time to time as another weapon for Josh Allen, then he could at least prolong his career and earn a few more bucks rather than being forced into retirement. Finally, considering the amount of offensive lineman the Bills have signed this off season, Fisher is betting that his meal ticket is at a thinned-out tight end corps rather than in the trenches. I like his chances to make the roster, barring injury. His skill set plus experience in the league affords him a step up over young, inexperienced players trying to make the roster. If Jake Fisher makes the roster as a tight end, his story will certainly be one to watch.