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Late for Work 7/28: Did Ray Lewis-Led Ravens Defense Nudge Barry Sanders Into Early Retirement?

LB Ray Lewis

The Role Ray Lewis-Led Ravens Defense Played in Barry Sanders Retiring

It was 24 years ago yesterday that Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions announced his retirement at the age of 31 despite still being at the top of his game.

The History Channel’s “Sports History This Week” podcast revealed that Sanders' final game, a 19-10 loss to the Ravens in Baltimore, may have played a role in his decision to call it a career.

"The Ravens defense, led by a young Ray Lewis, absolutely pummels him," host Kaelen Jones said. "At one point, a graphic pops up on the screen showing Sanders has 10 carries for a total of negative-1 yard. He's getting gang-tackled behind the line of scrimmage over and over.

"On the plane ride home, Sanders sits alone quietly playing chess against the computer when he's approached by teammate Tracy Scroggins. Sanders tells Scroggins that he's just played his last NFL game, but Scroggins doesn't believe it."

Sanders finished the game with 19 carries for 41 yards and a fumble. He needed 50 rushing yards to set an NFL record sixth season with more than 1,500 yards, but the Ravens held him short.

"I remember Barry Sanders taking a shot in that game, and I had never seen that," said former Lions quarterback Scott Mitchell. "I had never seen someone put a lick on Barry Sanders. It was just my observation, and I know he's never come out and said, 'I got to the point where I was taking some shots that I hadn't before,' but I think that played into a little bit."

Pundit Says 'There Aren't 30 Players Better Than Lamar Jackson, Much Less 71'

Warren Sharp of Fox Sports and Sharp Football Analysis weighed in on the absurdity of Lamar Jackson being ranked No. 72 in the NFL Top 100 Players of 2023, saying there aren't 30 players better than Jackson, much less 71.

"On what planet is Lamar Jackson the 72nd-best player? Makes no sense to me whatsoever," Sharp said in a video on Twitter. "He was 11th in EPA per dropback outside the 10-yard-line last year. One of the most efficient quarterbacks that we have, one of the most important players that we have. Inside the 10 his efficiency went down — that's just because he had nobody to throw the ball to. He actually ranked top 10 in accuracy of his passes. He only threw one out of over 20 passes inside the 10-yard-line that was charted as inaccurate. His top five targets, four of them were running backs or tight ends."

Sharp also noted that Jackson was 8-4 as a starter last year, with all the losses being by four points or less.

"Lamar Jackson is winning these games. He's gonna play even better this season in my opinion," Sharp said.

Kyle Hamilton, Tyler Linderbaum Among Top Second-Year Players Who Could Make PFF50 Next Year

Speaking of player rankings, Pro Football Focus put out its top 50 players list earlier this week. As a follow-up, PFF’s Sam Monson identified 10 rookies and second-year players who are candidates to make the PFF50 next year.

Safety Kyle Hamilton and center Tyler Linderbaum, who both had strong rookie seasons, were among them.

"Hamilton had a tumultuous rookie season that ranged from being a full-time starter at free safety to a part-time player seeing as few as 14 snaps in a game to back to being a full-time player but largely deployed as a matchup weapon in the slot," Monson wrote. "There were hiccups along the way, but Hamilton earned an 87.6 PFF grade in the end and looked comfortable in most spots on the field. His final two games of the season, against the elite Bengals offense, were among his best performances all year. Hamilton could emerge as one of the best safeties in the game in his second season.

"Linderbaum was one of the best centers to enter the league in years, judging by PFF's college grading. Though pass protection was a bit of a struggle at times during his first season — 29 total pressures allowed and a 53.5 PFF grade in that area — his run-blocking prowess was enough to show that he will be fine at this level. He finished with an 84.2 run-blocking grade, the fourth-best mark in the league. He has work to do in his second season to shore up that pass protection, but if he can, he has a good chance to make the list as a sophomore."

AFC North Ranked No. 1 Division Based on Starting Quarterbacks

CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin ranked every division by its starting quarterbacks, and the AFC North was No. 1.

The division features three Pro Bowl quarterbacks in Jackson, the Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Burrow, and the Cleveland Browns' Deshaun Watson. Kenny Pickett of the Pittsburgh Steelers showed promise as a rookie last year.

Regarding Jackson, Benjamin wrote: "His unteachable speed and easy ability to air it out always make him a game-changing presence."

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