<
>

Ravens' best draft pick was NFL's best linebacker/motivator Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis, the 26th overall pick in 1996, helped the Ravens win a pair of Super Bowls. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The discussion for the best draft pick in Baltimore Ravens history is a three-player race: offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. All three are among the best to ever play their positions, and Lewis and Reed should join Ogden in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But there's only one player in franchise history who was a part of both Super Bowl teams. And there is only one player who has a nine-foot statue in front of M&T Bank Stadium.

Why Lewis is the best draft pick in Ravens history: Baltimore selected Lewis with the No. 26 overall pick in 1996, and he quickly became the face of the fledgling franchise. When it came to the running game, Lewis was fast enough to chase down running backs and physical enough to make them pay when he did. In every one of his 17 seasons, Baltimore held opponents to 4 yards per carry or less. When it came to the passing game, he was explosive enough to rush the passer and athletic enough to cover running backs and tight ends. He's the only player in NFL history to amass 40 sacks and 30 interceptions. What made Lewis special was how he elevated those around him and consistently made the Ravens the NFL's most feared defense. He was one of the best leaders and motivators in the game. Players talked about not wanting to make a mistake because they didn't want to face Lewis in the huddle afterward. Since 1999, in the 11 seasons in which Lewis has played at least 12 games, the Ravens' defense ranked in the top 10 every year, including eight times in the top three. When you think of the Ravens, you think of Ray Lewis.

HONORABLE MENTION

Jonathan Ogden, offensive tackle: The Ravens' first draft pick became the best offensive player in team history and the most dominant offensive tackle of his era. He went to the Pro Bowl for 11 straight years (every season except his rookie one, in 1996, when he played left guard). Without Ogden, there wouldn't have been a Super Bowl championship in the 2000 season and there wouldn't have been a 2,000-yard rushing season for Jamal Lewis in 2003. In 2013, he became the first Ravens draft pick to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Ogden was also the fifth offensive tackle to earn election in his first year of eligibility and the first to do so in 12 years.

Ed Reed, safety: In 2002, the Ravens had to settle for the 24th player on their board with the No. 24 overall pick. It turned out to be one of the best playmaking safeties in NFL history. Reed will be remembered for making an impact all over the field by taking risks, whether it was jumping a route or haphazardly lateraling the ball. He picked off 61 passes as a Raven, the most interceptions in the NFL since 2002 and 11 more than anyone else during that span. He is the NFL's all-time leader in interception-return yards, recording the two longest interception returns in NFL history (107 and 106 yards). Reed has scored 14 touchdowns in his career (including playoffs), reaching the end zone off interceptions (eight), blocked punts (three), fumble returns (two) and a punt return (one). He is eligible for the Hall of Fame Class of 2019.