Ray Lewis Named Greatest Linebacker Ever by ESPN; Three Other Ravens in Top 2 All Time at Their Positions
Even though the Ravens are the second-youngest franchise in the NFL, they were well represented in an ESPN survey of 50 experts, reporters and analysts that determined the greatest players of all time at each position.
Ray Lewis was named the GOAT at linebacker, while safety Ed Reed, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and kicker Justin Tucker were the first runner-up at their positions.
Lewis earned 23 votes, 10 more than runner-up Dick Butkus.
"What separates the greats from one another is not physical skill. It's preparation, football intelligence, instincts and execution," analyst Louis Riddick said. "Lewis made some of the most spectacular individual defensive plays we have ever seen because he was the very best at getting the most out of everything he had mentally before the ball was even snapped, allowing his physical skills to shine. That is being a GOAT in my eyes."
"NFL Matchup" host Sal Paolantonio said: "I covered Lewis from the day he was drafted until the night he walked away a winner in his second Super Bowl. He was the toughest, smartest NFL player I ever encountered. Lewis' film study habits allowed him to see things on the field before they happened. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning would both probably tell you Lewis rented space in their minds pre- and post-snap."
Tucker received 21 votes, one less than Adam Vinatieri. No disrespect to Vinatieri, but I think the voters whiffed on this one.
Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley agreed. He contended that "Tucker is the best kicker in the game because of his accuracy and ability to come through in the most pressure-filled situations, converting 91.1% of his field goals (best in NFL history). And he has connected on 58 straight field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a record 66-yarder last year."
Bengals reporter Ben Baby said: "The five-time All-Pro is definitely one of the most clutch kickers ever, but he's also one of the most reliable."
Vinatieri played a whopping 24 seasons and finished with a 83.8 field goal percentage. His clutch playoff kicking and multiple Super Bowls certainly helped his case.
Reed (15 votes), was second to Ronnie Lott (27).
"Reed was the ultimate game-changer with rare instincts and ball skills, totaling 64 career interceptions and seven defensive touchdowns," analyst and former safety Matt Bowen wrote.
Stats & Information's Michael Proia pointed out that Reed is "the only free safety to ever win Defensive Player of the Year, is tied for most interceptions in postseason history (nine), had 13 career TDs and posted the most interception return yards in NFL history."
Ogden received 10 votes, second to Anthony Munoz (27).
"Imagine you step to the line of scrimmage and the man across from you is 6-foot-9, 345 pounds and smiling. That's what Ogden's opponents bore witness to for 12 seasons," Dolphins reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques wrote.
Rams reporter Sarah Barshop, who also picked Ogden, wrote: "Ogden was one of the linemen who showed just how important it is to protect a quarterback's blind side. And he was consistent, making the Pro Bowl every year of his career except for his rookie season."
Cornerback Deion Sanders and returner/special teamer Devin Hester, who both played for the Ravens in the twilight of their careers, also were named the GOAT at their positions.
Justin Tucker Is 'a Lock' for Hall of Fame
Lewis, Reed and Ogden are all first-ballot Hall of Famers, and Tucker could very well join them in Canton one day.
Tucker made NFL.com's Adam Schein's list of nine current players who are locks for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I know how tough it is for special teamers to get into the Hall. Heck, I'm still waiting for Steve Tasker to get a bust. But I know a true Hall of Famer when I see one. And Justin Tucker is unquestionably that," Schein wrote. "The clutch kicks, the bombs, the sparkling statistics — it's all there. The most accurate kicker in NFL history (91.1 percent) is also the best kicker in NFL history. And if the best player ever at a position isn't a Hall of Famer, what's the point?
"Also, in an era of competitive balance and NFL parity, you can't overlook how big a luxury it is to basically be able to bank three points when you cross midfield. Shoot, with the extra point lengthened, that's no longer automatic — except for Tucker. Baltimore has a major advantage in this weapon of a leg."
There are only two pure kickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Morten Andersen and Jan Stenerud.
Bold Predictions for AFC North Have Ravens Winning Division, Bengals Missing Playoffs
Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson made three bold predictions for every AFC North team. Here's a look at one prediction for each squad:
The Ravens will win the division.
"The playoff race in the AFC last year was a wild ride, and Baltimore was the No. 1 seed in the AFC until injuries finally started to take their toll and drag the team down. The Ravens' backfield was decimated before the season even began, and the secondary took a real beating late in the year — not to mention losing Lamar Jackson for some time. The Ravens were overtaken in the pecking order when those injuries began to mount, but a healthy roster again puts them right back among the favorites in the AFC, let alone the division. Baltimore is the obvious choice for this year's worst-to-first candidate in terms of standings."
The Bengals will miss the playoffs.
"The Super Bowl hangover is real! The bigger point is that Cincinnati clearly overachieved last season, going on a postseason run that came tantalizingly close to a championship, but that type of lightning in a bottle is difficult to capture twice. To the team's credit, it clearly recognized the issues and did a fantastic job of reworking the offensive line this offseason to remove the biggest area of weakness. There is a lot to like about this team, and it's strongest in the right areas, but the AFC is an incredible gauntlet this year and some good teams are going to miss out. The AFC West looks like the strongest division in football, but the North isn't far behind. It wouldn't take a lot for the Bengals to go from Super Bowl losers to missing the postseason entirely."
Browns rookie Cade York will be the best-graded kicker in the league.
"The only thing we know about NFL kickers is there is very little consistency from one year to the next unless you are named Justin Tucker. Incredible talents come out of college regularly, but all it takes is one bad miss to erode confidence and turn the player into a busted flush. Cade York recorded the second-best PFF grade of any kicker in the country last year in college football, earning a 91.4 grade from 39 extra points and 18 field goal attempts. The season before, he was even better. York has the kind of leg that will earn him opportunities other kickers don't get, and while he might not become the next Tucker, he will sit atop the mountain in 2022."
Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett won't start until the second half of the season.
"Young quarterbacks struggle with the speed of the NFL game. That's a cliche, but it's such a time-worn statement because it's true. That manifests in a lot of ways — most obviously, mistakes and turnovers — but we critically see it a lot in terms of average time to throw. Pickett had a 3.2-second average time to throw last season in college, one of the slowest marks in the nation. It's a figure that usually increases from college to a player's rookie NFL season. Each of the first-round rookies to start last year saw their average times to throw get longer from their final college season. If Pickett's process doesn't speed up significantly, he won't be viable behind the Steelers' offensive line, and it will be tough for him to earn the job over [Mitch] Trubisky until that happens."