I’d like to preface this by emphasizing how much London Fletcher means to Redskins nation.
No player in recent memory has contributed as much heart and as much earnest devotion to this team, down after down, quite like London Fletcher. Fletch has anchored this defense for the past few seasons and has done so without fail.
He’s a ball-hawking, field general of a middle linebacker that does on sheer strength of will what younger, bigger and faster players at his position struggle to accomplish.
He’s simply one of the greatest Redskins of the past decade and then some.
The clock, however, always wins. Despite a much deserved appearance in the Pro Bowl this year, there is no ignoring the fact that London Fletcher is 36 years old and for all the checks Dan Snyder can cash, no dollar amount is large enough to coax the clock into slowing down.
That said, the Redskins should start looking to the future and who they can add to the middle of their defensive unit to solidify what is already a young, explosive group featuring Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
If we’re talking about the draft – and I am – here are a few names that stand out:
Najee Goode, 6’0″ 245, West Virginia: I’m sort of a homer. Actually, I’m a huge homer; I love my Mountaineers. Still, there’s no denying Goode’s productivity in Morgantown over the past few years. Goode played at every linebacker spot in West Virginia’s 3-3-5 stack and proved he’s as versatile as he is ferocious at the point of attack.
He’s not towering at 6’0″ but he has great strength and better-than-expected speed. His grasp of the game and his ability to move around at the linebacker position would make him ideal to come in and get groomed to take over once Fletcher takes his final bow. Even better, he’s not projected until the late rounds, so he could be a steal just like current Redskin and former Mountaineer star Chris Neild.
Vontaze Burfict, 6’3″ 250, Arizona State: Burfict is a big time name that we would go after only if we were willing to give up any hope of making a play for Robert Griffin III.
Not that it’s likely we would do that, but Vontaze Burfict is a dominant athlete who owns the middle of the field and was widely regarded as one of the best defensive players in the Pac 12. While his 2011 season was a bit quiet in comparison to his performance in 2010, Burfict has the skill set that, under the correct tutelage, would allow him to excel tremendously in Jim Haslett’s scheme.
Tank Carder, 6’3″ 237, TCU: Most people remember Carder from the Horned Frog’s rose bowl win two years ago. The same player showed up in the second half of 2011 but was a little quiet for the first stretch of the season.
Still, Carder is a tough kid who loves contact and can play with range. He’s somewhat slight right now to be coming into the league as an inside linebacker but therein lies the beauty of NFL weight training programs.
If Carder can stack on some weight, he could potentially excel in a 3-4 scheme where his size and athleticism would make him a run stop machine. He would be a great addition to plug into the Kerrigan/Orakpo dynamic and a terrific understudy to one of the best veteran defensive players in the business.
I’m not Walter football so I won’t give an in depth draft analysis for each linebacker in the 2012 draft class. I’ll let you fine people comb through the draft boards at your leisure. These three stand out to me, though, as potential heirs to the Fletcher mantle.
London Fletcher hasn’t said he’s done yet and the Redskins’ ownership has stated its interest in bringing him back. But you can’t put a price on being proactive and it’s hard to expect Fletcher doing this for more than another year or two.
That said, whoever the Redskins choose to pick up London Fletcher’s mantle should be forewarned. It’s a role that Fletcher redefined in DC and it’s measured not by sheer athleticism or premature hype but heart. Light years of heart.