I was perusing my Instagram feed a couple of weeks ago when I came upon a meme that stood out to me. This particular image (see below) poked fun at Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis’ on-field personality by comparing his stats to former Bills linebacker London Fletcher.
Three things stood out to me about this meme: (1) they had similar statistical careers, (2) Fletcher never missed a game, and (3) Fletcher is not in the hall of fame. So this begs the question, should London Fletcher be in the hall of fame? I will answer this question through a statistical comparison with four other modern-era legends: Derrick Brooks (HoF), Brian Urlacher (HoF), Junior Seau (HoF), and Zach Thomas.
How Does London Fletcher Stack Up?
London Fletcher (STL/BUF/WAS): 16 seasons (256/256 GP: 23 INTs; 96+ PD; 19 FF; 12 FR; 39.0 Sacks; 2039 Total TKLs; 109+ TFLs)
Brian Urlacher (CHI): 13 seasons (182/208 GP: 22 INTs; 90 PD; 11 FF; 15 FR; 41.5 Sacks; 1361 Total TKLs; 138 TFLs)
Derrick Brooks (TB): 14 seasons (224/224 GP: 25 INTs; 84+ PD; 24 FF; 4 FR; 13.5 Sacks; 1713 Total TKLs; 68+ TFLs)
Junior Seau (SD/MIA/NE): 20 seasons (268/320 GP: 18 INTs; 43+ PD; 11 FF; 18 FR; 56.5 Sacks; 1847 Total TKLs; 80+ TFLs)
Zach Thomas (MIA/DAL): 13 seasons (184/208 GP: 17 INTs; 48+ PD; 16 FF; 8 FR; 20.5 Sacks; 1734 Total TKLs; 74+ TFLs)
As previously mentioned, London Fletcher never missed a game in sixteen seasons, which is an astonishing feat in the physically demanding game of football. Derrick Brooks also played every game in his career but retired after fourteen years in the NFL. Brian Urlacher and Zach Thomas both played thirteen seasons but missed significant time due to injuries. The only linebacker that played more career games than Fletcher was the late Junior Seau. However, he also missed more games than the other four players combined. As the old saying goes, “the best ability is availability” and London Fletcher topped each of these legendary linebackers in that regard. Furthermore, he not only showed up for work each Sunday, he remained effective throughout his entire career.
Tackles (Total & For Loss)
For linebackers, probably the most important in-game statistic is tackles. London Fletcher had more career tackles than each of the four legends. He also ended his career with fourteen 100-tackle seasons (2000-13). Brooks had twelve such seasons (1996-2007), Thomas had ten (1996-99, 2001-06), Urlacher had nine (2000-03, ’05-07, ’10-11), and Seau had eight (1991-96, ’98, 2000). Meanwhile, only Brian Urlacher had more career tackles for loss (TFLs) than Fletcher.
Pass Defense (Passes Defended & Interceptions)
Fletcher also proved to be exceptional in pass coverage, recording more passes defended (PDs) than Brooks, Urlacher, Seau, and Thomas. The fact that he had more PDs than Derrick Brooks, arguably one of the best coverage linebackers in NFL history, should turn more heads on the selection committee. Additionally, Fletcher had the second-most interceptions among this group, two behind the aforementioned Brooks.
Fumbles (Forced & Recovered)
London Fletcher had the second-most forced fumbles (FFs) and third-most fumble recoveries (FRs) among this group of linebackers. Fletcher had five fewer FFs than Derrick Brooks but scooped up eight more FRs. Meanwhile, he had eight more FFs than Urlacher and Seau, though they both had more FRs (three and six more, respectively). The only linebacker in this group that Fletcher edged out on both categories was former rival, Zach Thomas. (It’s also worth noting that he had the same number of FFs as Ray Lewis, the man who inspired the hit stick in Madden!)
Fletcher was also effective rushing the passer as an inside linebacker, tallying the third-most sacks in this group. (It should be noted that Junior Seau played both the inside linebacker and outside linebacker/edge rusher positions in his career, so the seventeen-plus sack deficit should be taken with a grain of salt.) Brian Urlacher was the only traditional inside linebacker to record more sacks than London Fletcher (two and a half more to be precise). Meanwhile, Fletcher tallied more career sacks than Zach Thomas and Derrick Brooks combined.
All of Bills Mafia talks about how Steve Tasker should be in Canton, but it could be argued that London Fletcher has a stronger case. (They both deserve to get in. Please do not crucify me on Twitter!) He played in every game and was a consistent defensive contributor everywhere he went from his early twenties to his late thirties. Fletcher either kept pace with or surpassed four of the NFL’s greatest modern-era linebackers in all statistically significant defensive categories. Despite receiving little recognition during his playing days (four pro bowl appearances and zero all-pro honors), he put together a legendary career and deserves to wear a gold jacket.
While his Buffalo tenure was brief (five years), he was an icon of the playoff drought era. He was also one of the first big names I ever saw in a Bills uniform, as I was too young for Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, Doug Flutie, and Eric Moulds (among others). I can’t speak for the entire Bills Mafia, but I subscribe to the old adage: “Once a Bill always a Bill”. Therefore, I believe that we should come together and support one of the game’s unsung heroes in his pursuit of football immortality!
* All player stats provided by Pro Football Reference.
* The “Passes Defended” (PD) and “Tackle for Loss” (TFL) categories were not consistently recorded until 1999. These values are followed by a “+” for those who were playing prior to that season.
* “HoF” connotes Hall of Fame inductee.
What do you think? Are there any modern-era linebackers I missed? Should Bills Mafia start a social media campaign to get London Fletcher into the Hall of Fame? Let me know on Twitter (@zvaughn2712).