It's obvious(and sad) to see the decline in play of the great London Fletcher. But as Deisel44 so eloquently put it, Father Time remains undefeated. The defensive woes this season have been many, and the finger pointing has been vast and swift, but one player who that finger has landed on quite frequently over the first four weeks of the season is Fletcher.
The 38 year old "rock in the middle" has become a mere pebble at the bottom of a fast moving stream. Fletcher's decline began last season, although many chose to ignore it citing injury as the main reason for his slip in production. This season, Fletcher entered camp healthy, but the ole' body just hasn't been up to the task. He continues to get worse in the passing game. The athletic tight ends that once gave him trouble are just an expectation now. He now struggles with the average ones. London is now missing tackles inside the tackle box, and is frequently getting sealed at the second level by offensive linemen(something we didn't see much of in the past). He's also struggling with sideline-to-sideline pursuit; once a strength of his.
So what does this all mean in the grand scheme of things?
We need to find Fletcher's replacement heading into the 2014 NFL season. While it is still early in the 2013 season, it is never too soon to begin dreaming of the next man in the middle for this Washington Redskins defense.
2014 Free Agent Inside Linebackers:
Donald Butler: SD 6'1" 242 4 yrs(26) - Butler is arguably the top free agent inside linebacker in the 2014 class. He is good against the run, but may be even better against the pass. He's young enough to still improve his already impressive game.
Brandon Spikes: NE 6'2" 255 4yrs(26) - Spikes has improved his game each season in New England. He is more of a down-hill run stuffer, but he has worked on, and improved his pass coverage over the last two seasons.
Wesley Woodyard: DEN 6'0" 233 6yrs(27) - Woodward is a bit undersized for the middle, but I believe he can play the position, and play it well. He is a true sideline-to-sideline player who is a sound tackler in space, and excels in coverage.
Darryl Sharpton: TEX 5'11" 235 4yrs(25) - Much like Woodyard, Sharpton is a bit undersized, but plays sideline-to-sideline, and is great in coverage. His instincts set him apart.
Arthur Moats: BUF 6'2" 250 4yrs(25) - Moats is a young linebacker who is just starting to come into his own. He has really improved his coverage, and although he's not exceptional in this area, he's certainly not a liability. He has pleanty of upside at the position.
Yawin Smallwood: UConn 6'2" 240(JR) - Smallwood is my favorite linebacker prospect in the 2014 draft class. He plays all over the field, and is an even better all-around linebacker prospect than former teammate and 2013 draft pick Sio Moore.
A.J. Johnson: Tenn 6'2" 240(JR) - The Tennessee star is likely to enter the NFL Draft in 2014. He has potential to be a day one starter in the NFL.
Dee Ford: Auburn 6'2" 240(SR) - I believe Ford is one of the more underrated LB prospects in the nation. He's a good athlete with solid instincts who is a 3-down linebacker.
Shayne Skov: Stanford 6'2" 245(SR) - Skov is a model of consistancy for the Cardinal. He's a hard-nosed kid who is as fundamentally sound as they come.
Jonathan Brown: Ill 6'1" 235(SR) - Brown is another underrated prospect who could end up becoming a much better pro than he was in college. I really like this kids motor and open-field ability.