A long, long time ago (in 2020), I examined whether London Fletcher should be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (The answer to that question is ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY!) Since then, two classes have received their busts and gold jackets, yet “The Ironman” hasn’t even sniffed the semifinal round of voting. Why? Are his stats not impressive enough? Does he not have enough shiny things in his trophy case? Is something else influencing the voters?
These are the questions I intend to answer in this piece. First, we will look at Fletcher’s career stats compared to the 2021 and 2022 Hall of Fame Finalists: Sam Mills (HoF Class of 2022), Clay Matthews Jr., Zach Thomas, and Patrick Willis. Then, I will look at two additional elements that may be influencing the voters.
Note: I did use Zach Thomas in my original comparison. However, I bring him up again for those additional comparisons and because he was a finalist in 2021 and 2022.
|Player Name||Seasons (& Years) Active||Games Played (GP)||Total Tackles (TKLs)||Tackles For Loss (TFLs)*||Sacks||QB Hits*||Passes Defended (PDs)||Interceptions (INTs)||Forced Fumbles (FFs)||Fumble Recoveries (FRs)||Touchdowns Scored (TDs)|
|London Fletcher||16 (1998-2013)||256||2,039||109||39.0||29||96||23||19||12||3|
|Sam Mills||12 (1986-97)||181||1,265||—||20.5||—||—||11||22||23||4|
|Clay Matthews Jr.||19 (1978-96)||278||1,595||—||82.5||—||—||16||27||14||2|
|Zach Thomas||13 (1996-2008)||184||1,734||74||20.5||5||48||17||16||8||4|
|Patrick Willis||8 (2007-14)||112||950||60||20.5||41||53||8||16||5||2|
The last time I did this, I went through every single stat point by point, comparing Fletcher’s numbers to modern-era legends Ray Lewis, Derrick Brooks, Brian Urlacher, Junior Seau, and Zach Thomas. However, that would take way too long -not all of the stats are comparable for these players (either due to their positional role or the recent establishment of the metric), and there’s more to the story than mere numbers. Therefore, I will highlight what are, arguably, the most important stats for a linebacker: “Games Played” and “Total Tackles”.
It’s a well-known fact that London Fletcher never missed a game in his 16-year career (256 games). The only player on this list that exceeds his total is Clay Matthews Jr., who played 278 games in 19 seasons. However, Matthews Jr. missed 26 games in his career (14 of which came in 1982). This is not to say Matthews Jr. is not Hall of Fame worthy, just that he was mortal. Like most players, he suffered injuries.
This also makes Fletcher’s accomplishment that much more impressive. He played in a time where the hits were very hard and player safety was… not as important. So, for someone to play the physically-demanding linebacker position for 16 years without missing any time due to injury is not just amazing… it’s legendary.
The game of football has evolved over the years. The roles of every position have changed, but there is one LB stat that transcends each era: Tackles.
As I mentioned in my original piece, London Fletcher was a tackling machine. He recorded the second-most tackles in NFL history and ended his career with 14 consecutive 100+ tackle seasons (2000-13). Zach Thomas is fifth on the all-time list and had 10 100+ tackle seasons (1996-99, 2001-06). Clay Matthews Jr. is seventh all-time and had eight seasons with 100+ tackles (1979, ‘81, ‘83-84, ‘88-90, ‘92). Sam Mills is 22nd all-time in career tackles and had seven 100+ tackle seasons (1988, ‘90-92, ‘94-96). Patrick Willis, who is not listed on the preceding tweet, is 99th on the all-time tackles list and had six 100+ tackle seasons (2007-10, ‘12-13), which is impressive considering he only played eight seasons.
Furthermore, Fletcher retired nine years ago but still has the most total tackles in the millennium. The closest active player is Bobby Wagner, who’s 32 years old (and he’s at least five seasons away).
All these legends produced on the field, but Fletcher did more in the areas that matter (statistically). With that said, there is more to consider when discussing HoF-worthy careers.
|Player Name||Seasons (& Yrs) Active||Pro Bowl (& Yrs)||First-Team All-Pro (& Yrs)*||Second-Team All-Pro (& Yrs)*||Super Bowl Rings||Other Honors|
|London Fletcher||16 (1998-2013)||4 (2009-12)||0||2 (2011-12)||1||—|
|Sam Mills||12 (1986-97)||5 (1987-88, ’91-92, ’96)||1 (1996)||2 (1991-92)||0||HoF Class of 2022|
|Clay Matthews Jr.||19 (1978-96)||4 (1985, ’87-89)||0||1 (1984)||0||—|
|Zach Thomas||13 (1996-2008)||7 (1999-2003, ‘05-06)||5 (1998-99, 2002-03, ’06)||2 (2001, ’05)||0||HoF All-2000s Team|
|Patrick Willis||8 (2007-14)||7 (2007-13)||5 (2007, ’09-12)||1 (2008)||0||2007 Def. Rookie of the Year,|
HoF All-2010s Team
|Ray Lewis||17 (1996-2012)||12 (1997-2001, ’03-04, ’07-11)||7 (1999-2001, ’03-04, ’08-09)||3 (1997-98, 2010)||2||HoF Class of 2018,|
2000 & 2003 Def. Player of the Year,
HoF All-2000s Team,
SB XXXV MVP
|Brian Urlacher||13 (2000-12)||8 (2000-03, ’05-06, ’10-11)||4 (2001-02, ’05-06)||1 (2010)||0||HoF Class of 2018,|
2000 Def. RoY,
2005 Def. PoY,
HoF All-2000s Team
|Derrick Brooks||14 (1995-2008)||11 (1997-2006, ’08)||5 (1999-2000, ’02, ’04-05)||4 (1997-98, 2001, ’03)||1||HoF Class of 2014,|
2000 Walter Payton Man of the Year,
2002 Def. PoY
2003 Alan Page Community Award,
HoF All-2000s Team
|Junior Seau||20 (1990-2009)||12 (1991-2002)||6 (1992-94, ’96, ’98, 2000)||3 (1995, ’97, ’99)||0||HoF Class of 2015,|
1992 Def. PoY,
1994 WP MoY,
HoF All-1990s Team
Note: I compared Lewis, Urlacher, Brooks, & Seau’s stats to Fletcher’s in my previous piece on this topic. However, I failed to address their career honors. So I felt it was worthwhile to incorporate them into this section.
Pro Bowl & All-Pro Selections
This is the one area where Fletcher falls behind his esteemed peers. For everything that he did on the field, Fletcher received just four Pro Bowl selections, two Second-Team All-Pro nods, and one Super Bowl ring. That’s it. The #2 All-Time Tackler, who played 256 consecutive games at one of the most physically demanding positions in football, was a Pro Bowler just four times and never got a First-Team All-Pro selection.
In fact, of the players mentioned in this piece, Fletcher is tied for the least Pro Bowl nods with Matthews (four) and has the second-least total All-Pro selections (two). This is a far cry from the likes of Lewis (12 PBs and 10 APs), Urlacher (eight PBs and five APs), Brooks (11 PBs and nine APs), and Seau (12 PBs and nine APs). Even Thomas (seven PBs and APs) and Willis (seven PBs and six APs) were significantly ahead of Fletcher.
We all know that the Pro Bowl is a glorified popularity contest and All-Pro selections are made by media pundits, but they’re clearly meaningful for entry into Canton right?
Well, there’s one player I haven’t mentioned yet. Sam Mills, the newly minted Hall of Famer, had a whopping three total All-Pro and five Pro Bowl selections.
I’ll say (well, write) that again… Sam Mills, who will get his bronze bust and gold jacket next month, made five Pro Bowls and was named a First Team All-Pro only once.
So it seems personal accolades aren’t the most significant factor when determining Hall of Fame worthiness. But what about the ultimate prize?
Super Bowl Rings
The number of SB rings are all but irrelevent. (Though they do enhance the resumé.) Otherwise, Mills, Urlacher, Seau, and tons of other legends wouldn’t be there and London Fletcher would (because he won one with the Rams in 1999).
So, we’ve discussed Fletcher’s stats and accolades compared with his peers, but it’s still unclear why he isn’t in Canton. Is there another reason?
The likeliest reason why London Fletcher isn’t currently in Canton is because of his legendary peers. Fletcher balled out at the same time as Junior Seau, Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Derrick Brooks, Zach Thomas, and Patrick Willis. Despite having stellar seasons with three different teams, Fletcher was never the “best LB” in the league any year of his career. Basically, he was overshadowed by his contemporaries.
Why didn’t Fletcher get more Pro Bowl nods? Because Lewis, Urlacher, Brooks, Thomas, and/or Willis were on the ballot.
Why didn’t he get a First-Team All-Pro nod during his illustrious career? Because Lewis, Urlacher, Brooks, Thomas, and/or Willis were on the ballot.
Maybe, if his career started a couple years earlier (when Matthews and Mills were around) or ended a couple years later (after Willis retired), he might’ve received a bit more recognition. But that’s pure conjecture.
Of course, Fletcher isn’t the only victim of circumstance. Just look at Matthews. He played in the same era as Thomas, Seau, Mills, Lawrence Taylor, Rickey Jackson, Cornelius Bennett, Jessie Tuggle, and countless other legends.
The point here is that some players who have exceptional careers fall through the cracks when Canton comes calling. But London Fletcher should not be one of them. (Neither should Zach Thomas or Clay Matthews Jr. for that matter.) He was one of the best — and most underrated — linebackers to ever play the game. And now (well, next year) is the time to reward him with the ultimate form of recognition: a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After all, the ballot is a lot less crowded with linebackers now.
What do you think? Should London Fletcher be a Hall of Famer? Let me know on Twitter (@zvaughn2712) or in the comments below!!
Stats and Honors from Pro Football Reference.
Featured Image: Buffalo Bills Twitter (@BuffaloBills)