Ray Lewis: C.J. Mosley is best middle linebacker in the game

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Following the footsteps of Ray Lewis, C.J. Mosley says he wants to be the second-best linebacker to finish out a career with the Baltimore Ravens.

But, in Thursday night's game, Mosley is second to none when it comes to being the man in the middle of an NFL defense. That's according to Lewis, who is being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

"I would love for you to show me a better middle linebacker in the game than C.J. Mosley," Lewis said. "That's from a pure football instinct level of being a general and always ending up in the right place. Can he get better? Absolutely. Overall, that is what a linebacker looks like, plays like and thinks like. C.J. Mosley, that’s a football player."

Mosley has reached the Pro Bowl in three of his first four seasons. He has led Baltimore in tackles twice (2014 and 2017) and in interceptions twice (2014 and 2016).

Making an impact all over the field, Mosley is one of two defensive players who've recorded at least 450 tackles, five sacks and five interceptions since 2014. Carolina's Luke Kuechly is the other.

"You’re never going to replace Ray Lewis," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "There will never be another Ray Lewis in football, ever. But, there will be a C.J. Mosley, and that’s all C.J. has to do, and that’s what I love about C.J. He understands that. Be who you are, be your version of whatever that is, and he does a great job of chasing every day."

Statistically, there's an argument that the start of Mosley's career has been just as impressive as Lewis'. In the first four seasons of their careers, Lewis made more tackles and sacks and Mosley recorded more interceptions and forced fumbles. They both reached the same number of Pro Bowls.

Asked if those numbers surprised him, Mosley said, "We both put in the work. Being part of great defenses and great organizations, we both got to the Ravens at a great time when they needed a linebacker to do the things we did in the first four years. It’s still an honor to be talked about with him. As long as I keep that going, I think I’ll be all right."

Lewis believes Mosley's attention to detail off the field and physical presence on it separate him from other current linebackers.

"Every time I watch him, I’m like, 'Wow,'" Lewis said. "I get super excited when I see him playing football because he’s playing it from a linebacker perspective. He isn’t just trying to tackle you. He’s trying to make you feel him. I think a lot of linebackers now are OK with making tackles. No, the game is about punishment. You want to run the ball against me? That’s a problem."

Lewis played all 17 seasons with the the Ravens, the longest run with one team any NFL linebacker has ever had.

For Mosley, 26, nothing is guaranteed in Baltimore beyond this year. He's playing his fifth-year option season and will make $8.718 million this season. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, unless he agrees to an extension or Baltimore uses the franchise tag on him.

There are no updates on talks, Mosley said at the start of camp.

"Whether something works out or not, I still have an obligation to be the guy in the middle to make the plays and make the calls," Mosley said. "That’s my job; that’s what I’m here to do."

Kuechly is the NFL's highest-paid middle linebacker, earning $12.5 million per season. The other four highest-paid -- Seattle's Bobby Wagner ($10.75 million), the New York Giants' Alec Ogletree ($10.6 million), Minnesota's Eric Kendricks ($10 million) and Houston's Benardrick McKinney ($10 million) -- all average over $10 million each year.

"I feel like C.J. can go as high as he wants to go and be whoever he wants to be," defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. "He’s got that much talent. He’s got that much leadership ability, and I’ll follow him anywhere. I think C.J. can be a premier -- can be, is, will be forever -- a premier linebacker in this league."

Baltimore traditionally keeps top picks who live up to expectations. Nine of the Ravens' 10 first-round selections who reached the Pro Bowl were rewarded with second contracts. The only exception is guard Ben Grubbs, and the Ravens opted to re-sign guard Marshal Yanda that year.

"C.J. is one of the premier players in this league," said linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is entering his 16th season with the Ravens. "Not everybody can come through these doors and be considered a Raven for life. So far, I think his resume shows that, and I think he’s one of those rare guys that’s going to be a lifer here."