State Your Case: Why MLB London Fletcher deserves a look


London Fletcher photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams

There was room in Canton for a Pro Bowl middle linebacker who started in two Super Bowls and collected 2,000 career tackles.

His name is Ray Lewis.

But is there room for another?

That’s what London Fletcher would like to know.

As a Super Bowl MVP and a member of the 2000s NFL all-decade team, Lewis was a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer. He arrived in the NFL as a first-round pick and exceeded the level and expectations of his draft slot.

Fletcher was not a first-round draft pick. He wasn’t even a draft pick. He wasn’t even a scholarshipped football player in college, earning NCAA Division III Linebacker of the Year honors at John Carroll. There were 34 linebackers drafted by 25 different NFL teams in 1998 – and Fletcher wasn’t one of them.

But it wasn’t just his level of competition that hurt his draft stock. At 5-10, Fletcher didn’t fit the prototype for his position. At that size, middle linebackers tend to be physically swallowed up by NFL centers and guards. So Fletcher signed with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent and went on to become one of only two rookies to make the team.

Fletcher spent his rookie season chasing kicks on special teams but was rewarded for his hard work with his first NFL start in the season finale against San Francisco. He led the team with eight tackles that day and added a ninth tackle on special teams.

“London played so well,” recalled then Rams coach Dick Vermeil, “that after the game John Madden came down out of the booth and asked me, `Where in the hell did he come from? He’s a player.'”

Yes, indeed. Fletcher remained on the field as a starter for the next 14 seasons. He started 223 of a possible 224 games, sitting out the first snap of a 2000 game against Carolina when the Panthers opened in a four-receiver set. He strung together 14 consecutive seasons of 100-plus tackles, including a career-best and NFL-leading 166 in 2011 at the age of 36.

Fletcher led the Rams with 138 tackles in his first season as a starter, helping St. Louis lead the NFL in run defense and win its first Lombardi Trophy. He added a team-leading 116 tackles in 2001 as St. Louis won its second NFC championship.

Fletcher spent his first four seasons with the Rams, then moved to Buffalo in free agency and spent five seasons with the Bills, then returned to the NFC for his final seven seasons with the Washington Redskins.

Despite all of his tackles, Fletcher found himself competing for Pro Bowl spots in the NFC with first-round draft picks Brian Urlacher, Dan Morgan, Keith Brooking and Mark Fields and in the AFC with first-rounders Ray Lewis, Jonathan Vilma and Al Wilson. As a result, Fletcher was selected a Pro Bowl alternate eight times before election to his first Pro Bowl in 2008 at the age of 33.

Fletcher would play in four consecutive Pro Bowls before his streak ended in 2013 despite a team-leading 111 tackles. He retired after that season, having started the final 215 games of his career. In 2012, in celebration of the franchise’s 80th anniversary, the Redskins selected the 80 greatest players in team history and Fletcher was among the honorees.

According to game tape charted by coaches, Lewis was credited with 2,643 tackles in his 17 seasons. Fletcher was credited with 2,450 tackles in his 16 seasons. Independent arbiter Stats LLC credited Lewis with 2,055 tackles in his career and Fletcher with 2,031.

Lewis also added 20 forced fumbles, 20 fumble recoveries, 31 interceptions, 41 ½ sacks and three return touchdowns. Fletcher added 19 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries, 22 interceptions, 39 sacks and three return touchdowns.

“London had very good speed and quickness supported by outstanding instincts,” Vermeil said. “That got him to the ball quicker than anyone I’ve ever coached. He had the ability to maintain the discipline of the scheme, then go on and make plays a teammate should have made.”

As a first-round draft pick, Lewis took the short path to the top. As an undrafted free agent, Fletcher took the long path to the top. The longest, in fact. After his five-year waiting period, Lewis was ushered into Canton on the first ballot. Fletcher has finished his five-year wait and will be eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2019.

Fletcher lacks the Pro Bowls of Lewis (13) plus the all-decade acclaim. But what does the game tape say? There’s room in the Hall for one 2,000-tackle, Pro Bowl middle linebacker with a championship ring. Will there be room for another?

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12 Comments

  1. bachslunch
    August 7, 2018
    Reply

    London Fletcher (0/4/none) appears to be getting a bit of HoF chatter the last few years, especially from ‘Skins fans, though it’s hard to know how justified it is. He’s one of those undersized guys who played forever like Jim Marshall without getting a lot of honors. I expect lots of passionate partisan posts to follow soon enough here.

    I’m not sold on his candidacy as of now. If he’s Canton-worthy, what about regulaly eligible ILBs/MLBs like Sam Mills (3/5/none), Karl Mecklenburg (4/6/none), and Zach Thomas (5/7/00s)? Not to mention Seniors at the position like Randy Gradishar, Lee Roy Jordan, or Tommy Nobis? Is he more deserving than they are? It’s a fair question, though the best answer is maybe to just get them all in the room. The film study scuttlebut I’ve heard on Fletcher is all over the map, too, so that’s a controversial aspect to his case.

    Anyway — solod article, Rick, and you present the case well. I don’t always share your enthusiasms for certain players, but I always appreciate having my assumptions challenged. Sometimes, those kinds of write-ups are the most valuable, gotta admit.

    • Rick Gosselin
      August 7, 2018
      Reply

      The purpose of these State Your Cases is to generate discussion. We’ve done more than 200 State Your Cases on this site. Do all of them belong in Canton? Do any of them belong in Canton? The career of London Fletcher deserves discussion. As do the careers of Karl Mecklenburg, Sam Mills, Zach Thomas, Mike Curtis, Lee Roy Jordan, Tommy Nobis and Randy Gradishar. And that’s just at the middle linebacker position — one of 22 starting spots on the field. But too few of these players have been given that discussion and they wind up sliding into the senior abyss. Get these players into the discussion and then let the process play itself out. If they belong, they get in. If they don’t, they won’t. But when you play 16 seasons as Fletcher did, make 2,000-plus tackles and finish as a Pro Bowler or alternate in the voting 12 times in your career and win a Super Bowl, you career should merit some discussion.

  2. Michael Avolio
    August 7, 2018
    Reply

    London Fletcher is his generation ‘s Mike Curtis ; a great player overlooked because of an abundance of great players at his position during his tenure.

    Both are Hall of Famers in my opinion , as are LeRoy Jordan, Randy Gradishar, Nobis and Zach Thomas .

    They should not be kept out because of a numbers game.

    • bachslunch
      August 17, 2018
      Reply

      FWIW, and I’ve probably posted to this effect before, I’m not especially sold on Mike Curtis (2/4/none) as a HoFer, given his thin honors and his less-than-enthusiastic ranking at Ken Crippen’s site (true, small sample size, but still).

      Yes from me for Gradishar (4/7/none) and Thomas (5/7/00s), on fence with Nobis (2/5/60s) and Jordan (2/5/none), of course. Again, no news flash from me.

      I say get these folks and several OLBs (Howley, Baughan, Fortunato, Grantham, Forester) and then give a look at Curtis. YMMV.

  3. social media
    August 7, 2018
    Reply

    Rick,

    RE: “The purpose of these State Your Cases is to generate discussion”

    * Are all comments allowed or certain ones censored here?

    * I ask bc other readers who turned me on to your site said not all comments are posted

    * I found this to be true as some of my comments are posted others are not? so what gives?

    btw: Love your site!
    (just tryin’ to keep “The purpose…is to generate discussion” alive)

    • Rick Gosselin
      August 7, 2018
      Reply

      We’ve got you down as a Tom Flores supporter. The Flores State Your Case has an extensive section of comments and I believe you had a comment posted there.

      • social media
        August 7, 2018
        Reply

        Rick,
        thanks for your reply

        I did submit a comment last week, maybe 2wks now, but it *never appeared, are you the individual that screens comments or can you alert the person who screens comments? Should I re-post it again?
        thanks again, look forward to keepin’ “The purpose…is to generate discussion” alive

        • Rick Gosselin
          August 7, 2018
          Reply

          We have social media folks on the site. When did you post it and which story did you post it under?

          • social media
            August 13, 2018

            Rick,
            RE: “The purpose of these State Your Cases is to generate discussion”

            * This is the second time posting this comment

            * The comment I wrote you about was finally posted, appreciate you helping out and getting it posted, thank you Rick

            * I previously let y’all know that “readers who turned me on to your site said not all comments are posted – I found this to be true as some of my comments are posted others are not?”

            * You replied, “We have social media folks on the site” – just a suggestion, have them keep an eye on that for persons that submitted comments that were never posted

            * Keep in mind, had I not brought this to your attention, then the comment I let you know about, would have never been posted
            thanks again for getting my comment posted

  4. Robert
    August 7, 2018
    Reply

    London Fletcher is Hall worthy along with many others no doubt. As for the 2019 Senior Candidate it should be easy this year.
    Johnny Robinson should be the 2019 Senior Candidate. He seems to be the most talked about. He is the last player on the PFHOF Combined Team of the Decade that’s not enshrined since Jerry Kramer went in. It’s time to get the elephant in the room dealt with like Kramer. Johnny Robinson is always talked about as a legitimate candidate for these many years. He has waited 40 years plus years and that’s way too long for a player of his caliber and play. He dominated his era and could have played in any era.
    Best endorsements are from Lance Alworth and Gil Brandt. Lance Alworth stated that he was the best defensive player he ever played against in his career and the best he has seen in the last 50 years period.
    Gil Brandt called him one of the “100 greatest players ever to play football, regardless of position”.
    Coach Tom Flores, John Hadl and the late Jack Kemp all stated that Johnny Robinson redefined the role and the position of safety in modern professional football. He was the leader of that fierce Chiefs defensive unit.
    Johnny Robinson’s resume is definitely worthy of the Hall of Fame.
    6x First Team All Pro
    2x Second Team All Pro
    7x Pro Bowl (6 API First Teams)
    2x Interception Leader of AFL / NFL
    3x AFL Championships
    Super Bowl IV Championship ( played with three broken ribs suffered from the week before and made interception and fumble recovery )
    Played Super Bowl I
    5x Interception Leader of Chiefs
    57 career interceptions (In only 10 years on defense / avg. 5.7)
    Chiefs had a remarkable 35-1-1 record when Johnny Robinson made an interception in a game. ( Real impact player)
    He made an interception in all three AFL championships and Super Bowl IV with the Chiefs winning them all.
    Member
    Pro Football Hall of Fame Combined Team of the Decade 1960s (only player not inducted in HOF now that Kramer went in.)
    Pro Football Hall of Fame’s AFL All-time Team
    Pro Football Hall of Fame’s First All Pro Team
    All-time Super Bowl Team Nominee
    Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame
    Kansas City Chiefs All-time Team
    Missouri Sports Hall of Fame
    Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’
    LSU Sports Hall of Fame
    LSU Team of the Century
    LSU 1958 National Championship Team

  5. brian wolf
    August 7, 2018
    Reply

    Great article. I believe Fletcher deserves consideration as well. I felt he was alot better against the run than Brian Urlacher…Like alot of these commentators wrote, there are older linebackers that deserve to be in the Hall including Lee Roy Jordan. Chuck Howley his teammate, was very underrated himself. I still cant believe Mike Curtis isnt in. A commenter mentioned safety Johnny Robinson, I believe he should be in along with Dick Anderson of the Dolphins and Darren Woodson of the Cowboys…Safeties, Offensive and Defensive lineman, still dont get enough representation in the Hall.

  6. brian wolf
    August 7, 2018
    Reply

    Rick I am basically new to the site. Has there been any State Your Case articles or arguments for GB Wide Receiver Carrol Dale ? I thought he was extremely clutch in the postseason and had great career stats as well as being on three straight Championship teams

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