This was fun.
And, harder than we thought.
We put together a list of the best 53 players in Ravens history.
That list was sent to our season ticket holders, who are now determining which of these players will appear on the 10 tickets for our 2015 home games. (We expect to receive the schedule from the NFL in mid-April.)
We're doing this as part of our celebration for our 20th season. (While we'll do some commemorations this year for our 20th, we'll be much more dramatic with our efforts for our 25th season in 2020.)
Selecting the top 53 … simple enough, right?
Deciding the 10 best. Might be easier, but there are many good arguments for putting players on this elite list. Really tough calls.
Heck, I thought I could pick the 10 best Ravens quickly and without much study. I've seen every game, attended many practices and heard lots from our coaches, scouts and media through the entire history of our franchise.
Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Joe Flacco, and Terrell Suggs … they're layups. Then, well, Peter Boulware, Michael McCrary, Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap and Matt Stover have to be there. Right? These last five are members of our hallowed "Ring of Honor."
That's 10. But, wait. What about Marshal Yanda, a four-time Pro Bowler? Haloti Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowl selection?
That's 12. Whom do you take out?
Is it too soon to put Justin Tucker into the conversation? Short-timers Rod Woodson (four seasons, 64 starts and a Super Bowl) and Shannon Sharpe (two seasons, 32 starts and dramatic in every playoff game on our way to Super Bowl XXXV) – should they be in the discussion?
(Shannon, before you text me, I'm saying you should be in the conversation for inclusion in the Top 10 Ravens of all time. I'm suggesting that not everyone is going to agree with me, including some folks making this list.)
Here's how we picked our "best" 53-player all-time roster:
With help from some members of our personnel department who have been here since the beginning, we assembled the first list. These players were "no doubt among the best 53 in Ravens history." (Remember, these personnel experts – those working for the mighty and powerful Oz [Newsome] – have had almost everything to do with selecting who are the Ravens players since our beginning in 1996.)
This process got us to 39 names.
Then, the real discussion began.
The Selection Process
Our selection committee then assembled. This group included Baker Koppelman, our VP of ticket sales and operations, Chad Steele, our senior director of public relations, Patrick Gleason, the Ravens assistant director of PR, and Marisol Renner, our publications and PR specialist. Baker knows football and has attended all but a few of every game in our history. Steele first interned with us in 1998, when he was harassed regularly by Tony Siragusa, spent time at ESPN and returned to the Ravens full-time in 2002. Gleason is our "keeper of the flame," so to speak. Among other duties, he is the team historian and knows Ravens statistics like he knows his phone number. Renner, like Koppelman, a former Orioles associate, is similar to Gleason with her Ravens knowledge, and has been with the team since 1999.
Starting with the original list of the 39 players "who have to be considered," the committee then added two more categories: Tier 2, which included 27 players who deserved "serious consideration," and a "worth-discussing" list of 20 more players.
That's a total of 86 Ravens vying to make our top 53. (We originally produced a list of 50, but Koppelman suggested when we struggled to pick the final names: "Let's make it a 53-player roster just like the real NFL.")
Along with the obvious, guys like Rob Burnett, Elvis Dumervil, Orlando Brown, Sam Koch, Bart Scott and Torrey Smith made the original "have to be included" list. The "Tier 2" grouping included Brendon Ayanbadejo, Qadry Ismail, Vonta Leach, Bennie Thompson, Daryl Smith and Samari Rolle, who started 47 games for us at corner from 2005-09. He was a damn good player and made the Pro Bowl when he was with the Titans.
Some on the "serious discussion" group included cornerback Gary Baxter, Jeff Mitchell, the starting center on our Super Bowl XXXV team, and Wally Williams, the center before Mitchell.
You get the idea. We've had, and currently have, a lot of good players.
Let's use Jacoby Jones as an example. Before I went to a few of our scouts to make sure I hadn't missed anyone for the first list of "have to be there," I included Jacoby. Heck, just his performance in the playoff victory at Denver and then the two touchdowns in Super Bowl XLVII merited his spot. Or, so I thought.
A couple of our scouts weren't so sure. "He started 12 games for us at receiver and played in 44. He's not a great receiver, but he is an outstanding return man. How about someone like Jameel McClain, who played every down, was a leader on defense and was outstanding on special teams," one personnel expert offered.
Our selection group spent a lot of time talking about Jacoby and eventually moved him to Tier 2 – still in the mix for the final 53, but not there yet.
So, I went to the Pope – Ozzie Newsome. "Oz, we're making a list of the best 53 players in our history as part of us celebrating our 20th season. Is Jacoby Jones one of our 53 best ever?"
Oz chuckled. "Do you have a Super Bowl ring from two years ago? Jacoby has to be on the list."
Here's the final 53:
DT Sam Adams
LB/ST Brendon Ayanbadejo
C Matt Birk
WR Anquan Boldin
OLB Peter Boulware
T Orlando Brown
DE Rob Burnett
WR Mark Clayton
OLB Elvis Dumervil
QB Joe Flacco
C Mike Flynn
DT Kelly Gregg
G Ben Grubbs
TE Todd Heap
RB Priest Holmes
WR Qadry Ismail
WR Michael Jackson
OLB Jarret Johnson
WR/RS Jacoby Jones
P Sam Koch
S Dawan Landry
FB Vonta Leach
RB Jamal Lewis
WR/RS Jermaine Lewis
LB Ray Lewis
WR Derrick Mason
CB Chris McAlister
LB Jameel McClain
FB Le'Ron McClain
DE Michael McCrary
QB Steve McNair
G Edwin Mulitalo
DT Haloti Ngata
T Jonathan Ogden
DL Trevor Pryce
S Ed Reed
RB Ray Rice
LB Bart Scott
TE Shannon Sharpe
LB Jamie Sharper
DT Tony Siragusa
WR Torrey Smith
CB Duane Starks
K Matt Stover
OLB Terrell Suggs
QB Vinny Testaverde
OLB/ST Adalius Thomas
ST Bennie Thompson
K Justin Tucker
DE Anthony Weaver
CB/RS Lardarius Webb
S Rod Woodson
G/T Marshal Yanda
Two players I had on my original list, tackle Michael Oher and wide receiver Derrick Alexander, didn't make the cut. Oher started every game for the five seasons he was with us, and that included a Super Bowl. Alexander produced a 1,000-yard season ('96) and is second in team history with seven 100-yard receiving games.
The 53rd Spot
When the committee was coming to the end of selecting our 53 best, we could not reach a consensus on the 53rd player. Looking at stats, games played, games won, Super Bowls etc., we were stuck. The finalists for that last spot were Jameel McClain, who started 55 games and played in 87; Trevor Pryce, who started 41 and played in 56, and C.J. Mosley, who dominated last season and became our first rookie ever voted to the Pro Bowl.
We went back to Pope Ozzie. "Trevor, Jameel or C.J. for the final 53?"
The Wizard answered thoughtfully. "Think it's too early for C.J. He'd be an automatic a year from now. I'd pick Trevor. He made our defense much better when he was here.
It's not all about stats with him. Offenses had to account for him, and that really helped Ngata, Ray [Lewis] and Suggs be more dominant."
This is a fun discussion. Have at it.
Talk with you soon,