OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Players receive compliments from coaches and teammates all the time. It's more unusual when the pat on the back comes from one of your biggest rivals.
The Baltimore Ravens' C.J. Mosley has been named the NFL's toughest middle linebacker by the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ryan Shazier. In an article written for The Players' Tribune, Shazier compared Mosley to one of the best to ever play that position.
"Ever since C.J. came into the NFL three seasons ago, Baltimore's defense has been in the Top 8," Shazier wrote. "You have to respect that, because when you're the MLB, you're the anchor. You're like the symphony conductor. To come in and run a defense like that at 22 years old is special.
"I always say, Ray Lewis had some great years on paper, for sure. But some years, if you just looked at the stats? They didn't jump off the page. It didn't matter, though. Baltimore was always a top-five defense, and he got respect for that. C.J. has the potential to make that defense click for a long time."
Shazier is right about Mosley's effect on the defensive ranking of the Ravens. In 2013, the season before Mosley was drafted, Baltimore's defense was No. 12 in the league. In three seasons with Mosley, the Ravens defense has ranked No. 8 in 2014 and 2015 as well as No. 7 in 2016.
Lewis had the effect of elevating the play of those around him, and it was reflected in the rankings. Starting in 1999, in the 11 seasons in which Lewis played at least 12 games, the Ravens defense was in the top 10 every year, including eight times in the top three.
It's not just Shazier who has noticed Mosley's impact. He has made the Pro Bowl twice (2014, 2016) since being the No. 17 overall pick in 2014.
Since entering the NFL three years ago, Mosley is one of just three defensive players in the NFL to record at least 300 tackles, five sacks and five interceptions. Luke Kuechly, Jamie Collins and Thomas Davis are the others.
"Baltimore plays exactly the same way we play," Shazier wrote. "They play a little more man, but the philosophies are the same. As an MLB in our schemes, you have to be able to blitz, stop the run and cover. It's a three-tool position. C.J. has to play out in deep coverage a lot, and he does a great job."
Shazier said there's "no escaping" the connection between him and Mosley, and it goes beyond the fact that they both play middle linebacker. They were part of two of the top college programs -- Mosley went to Alabama and Shazier played for Ohio State. And they were selected two picks apart in 2014 by arguably the fiercest rivals in the NFL. Shazier was taken No. 15 by the Steelers.
"We always have heated battles," Shazier wrote, "and I think we bring out the best in each other."