Jerod Mayo, one of the New England Patriots' best players as well as their "defensive quarterback," is going to be out for at least a month after injuring his MCL in Sunday's showdown with the Oakland Raiders.
Luckily for the Pats, they have an undrafted kid out of Montana State who is more than ready to fill the massive void—Dane Fletcher.
Experts expect Gary Guyton, who has been a starter in the Patriots system before, or Brandon Spikes, a very promising 2010 second-round draft pick, to take over the middle linebacking duties. However, just handing the job to Guyton or Spikes without giving Fletcher a chance would be a big mistake by Bill Belichick and the coaching staff.
If Fletcher's limited knowledge of the playbook is what's holding him back, then fine, he should play sparingly.
But if what we've seen so far is any indication, Fletcher is the most well-rounded of the three, exercising his dominance against both the run and pass.
Where Guyton and Spikes are more one-trick ponies, Fletcher is the full package. Guyton is spectacular in coverage and Spikes is phenomenal defending the run, but both have trouble doing much of anything else.
In the first game of the preseason, the Pats faced the Jacksonville Jaguars. With parts of the first-team defense taking the game off, Fletcher was given ample opportunities to show off his offseason development.
So that's exactly what he did.
Fletcher was the best defensive player on the field that night, displaying range, speed, ferocity and an uncanny ability to stop a run before the running back could even get back to the line of scrimmage. He was in the backfield all night long.
In the next game, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Fletcher recorded one tackle before injuring his thumb and missing the remainder of the preseason.
Now back to full health, he should be given the chance to replace Mayo.
Just like in the preseason, I expect him to take advantage of that chance, prove the experts wrong and play the best football of his life in the next month.