- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.
(Last year: No. 11)
Is part of this some sort of lifetime achievement award? Sure. I don't think there's anything wrong with bumping a guy up because of career accomplishments, and there are few, if any, players in the NFC East with a resume that outshines Fletcher's. He's played 15 NFL seasons without missing a game. He's played on playoff and Super Bowl teams. He's been credited with 90 or more tackles in 10 of the past 13 seasons. And we've written in great detail on this blog in the past couple of years about Fletcher's importance to the Redskins' defense as an on-field and off-field leader. Redskins coaches say having him on the field and in the meeting room is like having an extra coach. He ran the team's workouts during the lockout two summers ago. He has spent the past couple of years training his eventual replacement, fellow inside linebacker Perry Riley, who reveres him.
At age 38 and heading into his 16th NFL season, Fletcher isn't the dominant, week-to-week thumper he used to be at that inside linebacker spot. But after struggling with nagging injuries early in the 2012 season, Fletcher was one of the Redskins' best players during the seven-game winning streak that led them to the division title. He had 35 tackles, four interceptions and two sacks (both in the division-clinching Week 17 game against the Cowboys) in that stretch, turning it on as a playmaker at and during the most important time of the season. Fletcher's work ethic, dedication, conditioning, focus, leadership and still-significant ability combine to make him one of the best all-around players in the division, even at an age at which many players have long since retired. An NFC East Top 20 list wouldn't feel complete without him.
The rest of the rankings: