Who says that size matters? That phrase certainly doesn't apply to Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, who has been one of the NFL's top tacklers throughout his 11-year career.
At 5-foot-9, 240 pounds, and blessed with outstanding natural instincts and a relentless motor, Fletcher plays the game in fast forward. He routinely beats blockers with his quickness and often appears to know the play before it develops. Though Fletcher relies on his athleticism to avoid and slip blockers in traffic, he is a ferocious hitter who changes the game with bone-jarring tackles. His 60 tackles this season rank fifth in the league, and his knack for creating big plays has keyed the 'Skins' sixth-ranked defense.
"He is a terrific player," said an AFC scout. "He does a great job of using his quickness and instincts to make plays."
Fletcher put that ability on display during a critical fourth quarter goal line stand in the Redskins' 14-11 victory over the Browns last weekend. With the Browns facing first and goal from the 1, Fletcher shot through a gap in the middle of the line to stop Jamal Lewis in his tracks. He snuffed out a play-action pass to Charles Ali in the flat on second down and blanketed Jason Wright on a swing pass on third down. Although he didn't make the play on fourth down, Fletcher's three-play assault helped preserve the Redskins' 11-point lead at a critical stage in the game.
"He has always been an impact linebacker," said an NFC personnel director. "He is instinctive, with coach-like awareness, much like [former Pro Bowl linebacker] Sam Mills."
For Fletcher to be compared to one of the best linebackers to play the game is well deserved praised, and it speaks volumes about the impact he makes. He's never been nominated to a Pro Bowl, but his stellar play this season may finally land him in Hawaii and also earn him the league's defensive player of the year award.
1. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Titans (Last week's ranking: 1): The monstrous playmaker is the game's most dominant player.
2. James Harrison, LB, Steelers (2): The underappreciated pass rusher is on the cusp of becoming the league's most feared sack artist. Harrison's two-sack performance against the Bengals is his third multi-sack game of the season.
3. John Abraham, DE, Falcons (3): The former Pro Bowler's timely playmaking has been critical to the Falcons' surprising 4-2 start
4. Charles Woodson, CB, Packers (4): The veteran corner dominated his matchup with the Colts' Reggie Wayne, holding him to two catches. In the process he reminded all observers that he is still at the top of his game.
5. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins (NR)
1. Trent Edwards, QB, Bills (Last week's ranking: 1): Buffalo's franchise quarterback was sharp in his return to the lineup as he connected on 20 of his first 22 throws. Edwards finished with 261 passing yards and has the Bills sitting pretty atop the AFC East with a 5-1 record.
2. Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins (2): The player also known as"Southeast Jerome" continued his torrid pace by topping the century mark for the fourth consecutive week. His 818 rushing yards lead the league and his seven rushing touchdowns rank second.
3. Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals (5): The two-time league MVP has the Cardinals on track to win their first NFC West title. Warner sports a league-leading 70 percent completion rate and his 12 passing touchdowns are fifth-most in the league.
4. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers (NR): Although his numbers aren't eye-popping, Roethlisberger belongs on the list for his workman-like performances that have propelled the Steelers to the top of the AFC North, even with Willie Parker injured.
5. Eli Manning, QB, Giants (NR): While Manning hasn't set the world on fire statistically, his steady play has helped the Giants to a 5-1 start. His completion percentage (61.8) and passer rating (89.1) are at a career-best level and speak to the growth he has made as a decision maker.
1. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (1): The Panthers' defense slowed Brees' assault on the record books, but the two-time Pro Bowl passer is still on pace to surpass several of Dan Marino's single-season passing marks.
2. Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins (5)
3. Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals (2)
4. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (3): The Chargers' top gun has been forced to carry the offense with LaDainian Tomlinson battling through a nagging toe injury. Although the team has been maddeningly inconsistent, Rivers' stellar play during the first half of the season deserves kudos.
5. Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos (NR): The Broncos' star has been off the mark in recent weeks, but he still rates as one of the league's most productive passers. If he doesn't regain his rhythm soon, the Broncos will quickly lose their lead in the AFC West.
1. Jeff Fisher, Titans (1): The Titans continue to bludgeon opponents behind a smash mouth running game and a suffocating defense. With a three-game lead in the AFC South, the Titans have the inside track on securing home field for the playoffs.
2. Tom Coughlin, Giants (2): The defending world champions are overpowering opponents on both sides of the ball.
3. Dick Jauron, Bills (4): This team has to be considered a title contender after its impressive showing against the Chargers.
4. Mike Smith, Falcons (3): The Falcons surprising 4-2 start has been the league's feel good story, but Atlanta's next four games (Eagles, Raiders, Saints and Broncos) will determine if the team can make a serious run at a playoff berth.
5. Mike Tomlin, Steelers (NR): The Steelers' head man deserves a ton of credit for guiding the injury-plagued team to a 5-1 record.
1. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans (3): The Titans' fleet-footed back broke out of his two-game slump with a dazzling 168-yard rushing day against the Chiefs. Despite operating in a two-back rotation in Tennessee, Johnson ranks fourth in the league in rushing yards and averages over five yards a carry.
2. Matt Forte, RB, Bears (1): The Bears' emerging star has not topped the century mark since the opener, but he has scored touchdowns in three consecutive games and leads all rookies with six scores.
3. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles (2): The electrifying wideout has been sensational as the team's top target. Though his role will change with Brian Westbrook, Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown returning to the lineup, Jackson will still be counted on to make big plays.
4. Steve Slaton, RB, Texans (4): The undersized speedster has single-handedly solved the Texans' running game woes. Since entering the starting lineup in Week 2, Slaton has averaged over 74 yards a game on the ground, with four rushing touchdowns.
5. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons (5): The franchise quarterback has displayed an uncommon poise for a rookie starter. His unflappable nature will be tested this week by the Eagles' high-pressure defense.
1. Curtis Lofton, LB, Falcons (2): He has anchored the middle of the Falcons' defense with surprising effectiveness. Lofton leads all rookies in tackles (39) and is one reason the Falcons' defense is exceeding expectations.
2. Chris Horton, S, Redskins (3): The 'Skins' seventh-round pick has exceeded expectations and become a key contributor. His versatility has allowed the 'Skins to utilize more exotic looks in the back end.
3. Jerod Mayo, LB, Patriots (4): He is making solid contributions on defense and special teams with little fanfare.
4. Alex Hall, LB, Browns (5): The Browns' sack master has been an integral part of the defense's dramatic improvement in recent weeks.
5. Aqib Talib, CB, Buccaneers (NR): The Bucs' top pick hasn't cracked the starting lineup, but his ball-hawking skills show that he has the potential to be a difference maker. With Talib's three interceptions in only a handful of snaps, its only a matter of time before he runs out of the tunnel with the first team.
Honorable Mention:Keith Rivers, LB, Bengals (1): It's unfortunate that Hines Ward's knockout shot ended Rivers' season because the Bengal had a chance to be a star this season.