Sixteen years ago, in one of the more memorable drafts in league history, the Indianapolis Colts got their man in Peyton Manning, the San Diego Chargers swung and missed by taking Ryan Leaf and the Oakland Raiders took a no-brainer in Charles Woodson.
And those were just three of the first four picks.
You see, unlike Manning, Leaf and Woodson, Fletcher – the undersized linebacker out of little John Carroll University – wasn’t invited to bring his family to Madison Square Garden in New York, the site of the 1998 draft. He didn’t get the opportunity to hit the red carpet and mingle with the other top prospects. He wasn’t able to take the stage and get his NFL Draft moment.
On Friday, however, Fletcher – pending any last-minute trades – will finally get that opportunity.
He has been selected by the Washington Redskins and general manager Bruce Allen to take to the stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York and announce the team’s second-round (34th-overall) pick.
Fletcher, who went undrafted in 1998 and was eventually signed as a free agent by the St. Louis Rams, told Redskins.com this week that the moment will bring his football career full circle.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Fletcher said. “I’m looking forward to just being there – the energy, the excitement, hearing the crowd respond to the different picks and things like that. So I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Fletcher took his opportunity with the Rams – and later with the Buffalo Bills and Redskins – and morphed it into what the top picks like Manning and Woodson were able to do: play at an All-Pro, Hall-of-Fame level for more than a decade.
He finished his career with 1,796 tackles, 39 sacks, 75 passes defensed, 23 interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and 19 forced fumbles.
And, like Manning and Woodson, Fletcher also won a title, as a starter with the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Fletcher said that although all college players with professional aspirations want to get that call during the draft, with hard work, there are other opportunities for those either drafted in the later rounds or not drafted at all.
Fletcher mentioned Redskins running back
“If you look at the NFL throughout history, there has been numerous guys who have gone undrafted that have gone and had long successful NFL careers, and even guys who get drafted in the latter rounds, whether it’s fifth, sixth, seventh round,” he said. “One of the benefits if you are not drafted is that you get the opportunity to maybe pick your team and the best situation that best suits you as far as making the team. You can kind of look at the roster depending on how bad a team wants you and kind of say, ‘This is my best shot to make an NFL roster.’”
Fletcher has certainly kept busy since announcing he was stepping away from the game after a productive 16-year career – the last seven of which played with the Redskins.
He’s been a frequent guest on a variety of football TV shows, has talked to the Navy football team, spent time in the Bahamas and in Cabo and completed a Carolina college campus tour with D.C.-area students via his London’s Bridge Foundation.
“Oh, it’s been great,” Fletcher said. “My wife and my kids are loving me being home – although I … am traveling more, it seems like, now being retired – or ‘transitioned’ as I like to call it – since this offseason, so to speak.”
As for the Redskins, Fletcher said there’s a few areas he thinks the team can target in this weekend’s draft to head into the 2014 season with a bolstered roster.
“Right tackle is one, inside linebacker obviously is another, maybe somewhere along the secondary – probably safety,” Fletcher said. “I guess a lot of it depends on the teams picking ahead of them, and how the draft shakes out will determine whether they move down and still feel like they can get a player that they target.”