Ray Lewis: Where He Ranks Among Greatest Linebackers of All Time

By Aaron Kroh
January 05, 2013 11:21 am
938 Views 11 Comments

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.

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Previous Comments (11)

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2 years ago
I thinks he edge out LT because he played longer and has played at a high level for 14 years which is unheard of as a linebacker
2 years ago

Raphael, I think it's real close, but they were two different types of players. L.T. played in 62 fewer games than Lewis and he accomplished a lot more. Taylor had 132.5 sacks compared to Lewis with 41.5. Granted, Lewis drops back into coverage a lot more than Taylor did and that shows in Lewis'31 picks.
Taylor won the league MVP award in 1986 and only one other defensive player has ever done that! L.T. also won one more Defensive Player of the Year award than Lewis.
They both are phenoms at their position, but I feel L.T. edges out Lewis.
Junior Seau played longer than Lewis and has nearly identical numbers to him as well.
2 years ago

Its real close but the reasons I put him ahead is Lewis played at a high level for 14 years. His 14 season his peers had him as the top defensive player in football and # 4 in the NFL period that year. Also he will be the only HOF linebacker with a Super Bowl MVP. Then he was a made everyone around him better. You should go to my profile and look at my article on him as the greatest Linebacker ever. I go into more in detail. Great article
2 years ago

Lt was more of and edge outside backer. It is Ray's intensity his personality, his charisma, and knowledge of the game to me that separates the two. L.T was just a freak of Nature. Seau and brooks are closer to me but Ray's infectious love of the game made the others around him step up and they are all willing to push their bodies to the limit as well as use their heads because they know he is doing the same great ones have that influence
2 years ago
To include Brooks and/or Rickey Jackson over guys like Nitschke or even Chuck Bednarik is a little crazy to me.
2 years ago

Nitschke earned an honorable mention on this list. Since I am a little too young to have ever seen him or Bednarik play, I have to rely on highlights and other information.
What I do know is that Nitschke only made 1 Pro Bowl. He was the benefactor of playing on a really good Packers team and it helped having Lombardi as his coach. I know very little about Bednrik, except that he played for the Eagles from 1949-1962 and he was an eight time Pro-Bowl and ten time All-Pro player. He could've made this list, but his name showed up nowhere when I was doing research. He had the misfortune like so many other great players, to play in an era before stats.
Derrick Brooks and Rickey Jackson both had Hall of Fame careers and they have the stats and accolades to back up their rankings on this list.
Rickey Jackson - 6x - Pro-Bowl, 4x - All-Pro, 2x - 2nd Team All-Pro, Super Bowl Champion, Pro Football Hall of Fame. At the time of Jackson's retirement, he held three NFL records and six Saints records.

Derrick Brooks - 11x - Pro Bowl, 9x - All Pro, Super Bowl Champion (had a pick six in the game), Walter Payton Man of the Year (2000), AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2002), NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year (2002), NFL Man of the Year award (2003), NFL 2000's All-Decade team. Started 221 of 224 games and recorded 1,715 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 25 interceptions and 6 touchdowns.
2 years ago
Lewis' longevity and leadership should place him above LT. All LT did was rush the passer. Ray had better coverage and was able to dissect plays better. So what if opposing teams prepared around LT? Ray Lewis did more statistically over 17 years for a team that, without him, would not have been ranked in top 10 defense, year in and year out.
2 years ago

LT did a little more than just rush the passer. He was instrumental in changing the way the game and linebacker position was played.
It is difficult to compare the two, based on the fact that they serve different roles on defense. LT spent his entire career on the outside as an edge rusher and rarely dropped back into coverage. He did manage 9 int's.
Ray has spent his entire career in the middle, so he played coverage a lot more often and yes he can read an offense like no other at his position. He (Ray) also has been surrounded with All-Pro talent around him since Baltimore became a franchise again.
During Ray's career in Baltimore, his defensive teammates have made the Pro Bowl 38 times (Ed Reed the most with 9). Compare that to the 17 appearances by LT's teammates (Harry Carson the most with 7). Clearly Ray has had better talent around him to make that a consistent top 10 defense. He was the leader, but he wasn't Rambo, he has had help.
2 years ago

At the same time look at the stats on defense when Ray doesn't play all 16 games. He makes the other great players around him even better. The seasons in which he was injured for a significant period of time, the defensive numbers slipped way out of the top ten.
2 years ago
jessie tuggle and tommy nobis should be on this list
2 years ago

Tuggle had a good career, but he only made five pro bowls, didn't win any individual awards and he isn't in the hall of fame. I would put him in the top 30-35 probably. He was a tackling machine for the Falcons.
Tommy Nobis is in the same boat as Tuggle. I would rank him a little higher, since he won the DROY in 1966 and was selected to the 1960's All Decade team. He too made five pro bowl appearances, but is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Keith Brooking was another good Falcons linebacker.

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