Taking London Fletcher’s place is pretty much impossible.
Undrafted out of Division III John Carroll College, London Fletcher has crafted what is, in my opinion, a Hall of Fame career. Fewer men have fought harder, studied harder, and led better than Fletcher. In the poorest of times, the Washington Redskins could always count on London to give it his all on every down, and carry the torch of the Redskins proudly. It is too bad Robert Griffin III did not come around sooner; I think one more Super Bowl ring would solidify #59 as a Hall of Fame candidate. He has the numbers for sure. Maybe that is just the homer in me, but if you are going to be a homer for one guy, it is this guy.
London Fletcher leaving would undoubtedly leave a hole in our defense, not just from an on the field play perspective, but from a leadership perspective. Thankfully, Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen have done a solid job of preparing for life without London Fletcher; they drafted Perry Riley in 2010, and Riley arguably outplayed Fletcher for much of the 2012 season. Before an injury derailed his rookie season, Keenan Robinson had shown flashes of brilliance, particularly in coverage. Lorenzo Alexander is a free agent, but contract talks between the Redskins and One Man Gang have been going smoothly, and he could also be a candidate to take Fletcher’s spot. Bryan Kehl flashed potential in the preseason in 2012 but, unfortunately, had to be let go. He returned towards the end of the season, playing mainly special teams, but there might be something good with him, too if he returns.
That being said; you have to cover all your bases in situations like this. If Fletcher was to retire, or if he was released, we’d have to improve our depth at the position, and start grooming a replacement. This draft has an intriguing linebacker class with guys who may not start right away, but can play teams in the meanwhile (like Perry Riley did in 2010) and learn our defense. Here’s some of the guys later rounds guys who have stood out to me as I’ve gone through film work.
Jon Bostic, University of Florida
Bostic was the senior anchor in the middle of a very talented junior class of prospects at Florida. Bostic is a tone setter; he hits hard, he’s physical, and he brings some fire an intensity to the football field. At Florida, he started 32 of 51 games. Bostic had 68 total tackles in 2012, with 4 passes defensed and one interception that was returned for a touchdown. Bostic is a bit more of a thumper than a guy who excels in coverage; he’s stout against the run. He displays good football instincts, often diagnosing a play before it happens. The main problem I see on tape with him is that, while he’ll diagnose a play, he’s often a second or two late to really stop the play before it gets going, as though his brain isn’t communicating what he’s seeing to his legs fast enough. This occasionally leads to some bad angles and missed tackles you’d like to see him make as player. But, he’s always around the football, and when his instincts kick in, he doesn’t second guess and he just goes, you see some real flashes of brilliance from the Florida Gator. I’d say Bostic probably goes anywhere from between rounds 3 and 5, thought it wouldn’t surprise me to seem in sneak into the bottom of the second round.
Michael Mauti, Penn State University
Mauti is a guy that I root for, who’s had some unfortunate trouble with injuries. He tore his right ACL in 2009, a shoulder injury slowed him in 2010, he tore his left ACL in 2011, and then tore his left ACL again in 2012, in the midst of what was probably his best season. A healthy Michael Mauti is probably a second round pick, but his injury concerns make him a wild card.
It’s hard to make a case for drafting a guy that has that kind of injury history, but Mauti’s play when he was healthy, he was, in my opinion, one of the best linebackers in college football. Like Bostic, I think he moves better going forward than backwards, but, I think he disengages off blockers better than Bostic. He’s a solid tackler that doesn’t false step on the play action passes very much. Moreover, Mauti’s leadership qualities are probably the thing that entice me most. After an injury plagued couple seasons, and the Penn State scandal, no one would’ve blamed Mauti from moving on from PSU and playing somewhere else. Instead, he took up the mantle of a leader, openly criticized the NCAA and the coaches who invaded Penn State’s campus in the wake of the school’s sanctions, and took up a mantle of leadership. That’s the kind of guy I want on my football team, and the kind of player that guy rally around.
Mauti might be a more sentimental draft pick, but if he falls in the draft into that 5-7 range, I’d take a chance on the talent.
A.J Klein, Iowa State
I’m still working my way through finding more of A.J Klein’s tape, but when I look at his highlights (which, admittedly, aren’t indicative of his whole game), the one thing I notice that I love in linebackers is effort. Full speed effort on just about every play. He might not be the most athletic linebacker, but that combination of great football instincts and effort still helped him finishing his Cyclones career with 5 interceptions, 4 of which were returned for touchdowns.
He’s not really a great pass rusher, but as an inside linebacker in a 3-4, that’s a little less important than it’d be in a 4-3 if he were playing outside. He also did better at the Combine than expected, posting a very respectable 4.66 at the Combine. Unfortunately, even though he was doing well in on field drills, he wound up hurting himself. The injury doesn’t appear to be serious though, and he surprised a lot of people, including myself, with how good an athlete he really is. Again, he’s not the most athletic guy, but he may have been underrated in that regard. The more I watch of him, the more I like of him. He’s a later round guy who could produce big time.
Sio Moore, Uconn
It’s funny how you find yourself quietly liking a guy, thinking you found a gem, and then he blows up the Combine and the cat is out of the bag. Sio Moore is just another one of those guys you hope no one notices and then goes and has a stellar week of work the Senior Bowl and continued the good work at the Combine. He was incredibly productive at Uconn, raking up 174 solo tackles over his four years. He is a very, very disciplined player, which is important in our scheme; rarely do you see Sio Moore false step and get caught off guard.
His 4.65 time at the Combine is pretty damn good, especially since one of the few knocks on him was his ability to close on ball carriers. He’s one of the better tackling linebackers in this draft, though the shiftier running backs give him a tiny bit of trouble. That said, Moore would be a great value pick that can definitely develop into a solid middle linebacker down the line.