Ray Lewis has been a Raven since Day 1, but is he the greatest?
He’s more than just the (mean) face of the franchise. With his hard-hitting style, Lewis has defined the linebacker position for a generation the way Dick Butkus did for his. A 12-time Pro Bowler and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Lewis also was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV after leading to victory a Baltimore team that set a record for fewest points allowed in a season. His Ravens defense did not allow a 100-yard rusher in 51 consecutive games from 1998 to 2001, and in 2006 the Ravens led the NFL in 14 defensive categories. One of just two players with 30 sacks and 30 interceptions, Lewis was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
Considering the impact Ray Lewis made on the Ravens, it was no surprise that Baltimore drafted another hard-hitting Hurricane in 2002. Reed has rewarded the Ravens with seven Pro Bowl seasons, including 2004 when he was the Defensive Player of the Year, and joined Lewis on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s. The Ravens’ career leader in interceptions (54), he has led the NFL three times and has the two longest interception returns for touchdowns (107 and 106 yards). A special teams standout as well, he’s the only player to return an interception, punt, blocked punt and fumble for a touchdown.
How good was Baltimore’s first draft in 1996? The Ravens not only scored by taking Ogden with the fourth pick, but they also struck gold with Ray Lewis at No. 26. While Lewis became the heart of the defense, the 6-foot-9 Ogden was the cornerstone of the offensive line, making the Pro Bowl an astounding 11 consecutive seasons until his retirement. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s and inducted into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor in 2008.
Woodson already was a future Hall of Famer when he joined the Ravens in 1998, having made seven Pro Bowls in 10 seasons with the Steelers. He added three more Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl ring in 2001, cementing his place on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the ’90s. He also is on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and owns the record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns (12). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Lewis is simply the greatest offensive player in the history of a team defined by defense. Taken as the fifth pick in the 2000 draft, Lewis ran 1,000-plus yards five times in six seasons in Baltimore, including 2,066 in 2003, just 39 shy of the record. He did set the mark for most rushing yards in a game that year, with 295 against Cleveland. He won a Super Bowl in 2001, becoming only the second rookie to rush for over 100 yards in a Super Bowl and the youngest player to score a touchdown in one (21). Although Lewis made only one Pro Bowl and retired at 30, his production earned him a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.