STATISTICAL ANALYSIS | London Fletcher defies words. Now, at age 36 and in the final few games of his five-year contract, Fletcher continues to reliably produce and lead the Redskins’ defense. Fletcher leads the league in durability, and hasn’t missed a game in his 14-year career. He made the transition from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 with grace. Fletcher shows few signs of slowing down, and in some ways he’s never played better.
Conventional statistics for defensive players are sorely lacking, and those that are officially documented can be misleading. Official stats for defenders include things like interceptions, sacks, passes defended, and forced fumbles. Fletcher holds his own in those departments, but for a linebacker like him, tackles are what matter most.
But total tackles for a defender can be deceptive. A player on a poor defense who gives up many first downs would obviously have more opportunities for tackles. The worse the defense, the more tackles its players would make. Also, some positions naturally account for more tackles than other positions. We would expect linebackers to (hopefully) make more stops than cornerbacks. To get a truer sense of who the defenders are who are shedding blocks and getting to the ball carriers, I created a measure called Tackle Factor (TF).
TF accounts for the disparities in tackle stats due team defensive strength and position. League-wide, the inside linebacker position typically accounts for about 11 percent of his team’s total non-special teams tackles (including assists). Fletcher, however, accounts for almost 17 percent of the Redskins’ tackles. That’s good for a TF of 1.54, (calculated by dividing his 17 percent by the average linebacker’s 11 percent).
Fletcher’s 1.54 is the best of his 14-year career and is tied for the league lead with the 49ers’ Patrick Willis and the Falcons’ Curtis Lofton. In his five years in Washington, Fletcher’s TF has ranked ninth, fifth, fifth, 16th, and is now first among all linebackers. He’s a true tackle machine.
He’s not just piling on ball carriers after 7-yard gains. Fletcher is also a playmaker, as measured by his defensive Expected Points Added (+EPA)—currently 15th among linebackers in 2011—and Win Probability Added (+WPA)—currently tied at 16th. He’s 6th among linebackers in Success Count (SC), the total number of plays made that result in setbacks for the offense.
Fletcher’s consistency and his recent high level of performance indicate he still has a few serviceable years left in him. If he spends those years somewhere else, his presence will be greatly missed.
Brian Burke is a former Navy pilot who has given up his F/A-18 for the less dangerous hobby of football analysis. He is the creator of Advanced NFL Stats, a website about football, statistics, and and game theory.