For all the attention given to Cary Williams, especially with him running his mouth lately about the soft Eagles defense, according to Jeff McClane of Philly.com, the most underrated offseason acquisition by the Philadelphia Eagles has flown largely under the radar.
The Eagles signed Bradley Fletcher to a two-year, $5.25 million contract on March 12, a player whom Pro Football Focus ranked the ninth-best corner available in the 2013 offseason. But their rating was largely based upon concerns about his durability.
In his years at St. Louis, Fletcher earned a reputation for solid coverage and sound tackling. So far, this has shown up on the field.
Against the New England Patriots, Fletcher was one of the more consistent tacklers on the team. On the very first play of the game, when Stevan Ridley broke through for a 62-yard run, it was Fletcher who hustled all the way down the field to drag him down and save what seemed to be a sure touchdown.
Had that been Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Nnamdi Asomugha, it surely would have been a different story.
Fletcher also looked good against the run. On the very next play, Fletcher prevented yet another big play by wrapping up LeGarrette Blount.
In coverage, Fletcher showed consistency, rarely being out of place. Despite allowing two first downs, one for six yards and one for 23 yards, those plays were more the result of perfect throws by Tom Brady than poor pass coverage. And more importantly, Fletcher instantly wrapped up the receiver both times.
His solid tackling was a bright spot in a day riddled with horrible tackling performances by players like Nate Allen and Jamar Chaney.
While Fletcher has not exactly been consistent in training camp so far, Chip Kelly had enough confidence in him to start him against the Patriots' first team, and the veteran delivered.
Fletcher's performance may not have been jaw-dropping, but the Eagles could be getting exactly what they were expecting from him. He won't be a shutdown corner, and he won't jump many routes, so don't expect him to get a ton of interceptions. But he will be a reliable pass defender and will rarely be a liability.
That may not sound like much, but when the Eagles had players who consistently missed tackles like DRC or Nnamdi Asomugha, who allowed a 120.6 passer rating against opposing quarterbacks, consistency like that goes a long way in rebuilding a nonexistent pass defense.
Fletcher may not be a star, but his style of play is very similar to Sheldon Brown, whom the Eagles paired with Lito Sheppard and Asante Samuel for many seasons. Samuel and Sheppard may have gotten more of the spotlight than Brown, but they must credit part of their success to Brown's solid play on the other side.
When paired with Samuel, Brown's physical play and consistent tackling were a perfect complement to Samuel's riskier big-play ability. This season, it could be very similar, with Cary Williams being known more for his big plays and Fletcher being known more for his reliable tackling and solid coverage.
Fletcher isn't quite the hitter Brown was, but he is a physical player. He should be carefully watched during the rest of the preseason to see if he can keep up this level of play. If so, the Eagles pass defense should see a drastic improvement in 2013.
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