The Baltimore Ravens have had one constant over the past 17 years; their defense and team was led by one of the best linebackers to ever play the game.
Ray Anthony Lewis was drafted by the Ravens with the 26th pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. Lewis was taken with the Ravens second first-round pick, (they drafted offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden fourth-overall) in the team's inaugural season in Baltimore and has been a terror to opposing offenses ever since.
The 1996 Draft is remembered best as the year of the wide receiver, with guys like; Keyshawn Johnson (first-overall), Terry Glenn (seventh-overall), Marvin Harrison (19th-overall), Eric Moulds (24th-overall), Amani Toomer (34th-overall), Muhsin Mohammad (43rd-overall) and Terrell Owens (89th-overall).
With that said, no player in that Draft has made a bigger impact for a longer time than Lewis. And to think, he wasn't even the first linebacker drafted. There were three linebackers (Kevin Hardy, second-overall by the Jaguars; John Mobley, 15th-overall by the Broncos; Reggie Brown, 17th-overall, by the Lions) and eight other defensive players drafted before Lewis.
None of them have put together the career that Lewis has accomplished in Baltimore. He had an immediate impact in his rookie season, where he started in 13 games and led the team with 95 tackles.
Lewis has been named to 13 Pro Bowls, missing only 1996, 2002 and 2005. He is a seven-time First Team All-Pro, three-time Second Team All-Pro, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl XXXV Champion and MVP and he holds numerous defensive records.
Looking back on Lewis's career, it is hard to imagine him not being one of the best, if not the best linebacker to ever play the game. Many people believe that he may even be the best defensive player to ever play the game regardless of position, but at a certain point, it comes down to comparing apples to oranges and you can create an argument for a handful of NFL greats.
No one has played a bigger role in the franchise of the Ravens than Lewis, but is he the best linebacker to ever put on a helmet and make offenses game plan around him?
Here are the ten best linebackers to ever play in the NFL.