The Baltimore Ravens have, since becoming a NFL franchise after being moved from Cleveland by then-owner Art Modell following the 1995 regular season, been the envy of teams around the league as it pertains to the NFL Draft. Starting in year one, the Ravens kicked off a history of landing great talents and even Hall of Fame players in drafts. General manager Ozzie Newsome is maybe the best in the business when it comes to finding college phenoms, and there is no reason to believe that trend will end anytime soon.
Baltimore’s first two first-round selections in the history of the franchise were, in their days, the best players at their positions. The Ravens found a championship quarterback in the first round of the draft back in 2008. It’s not a stretch to suggest that no team has, in the past two decades, gotten drafts as right as the Ravens ahve.
10. Duane Starks — CB — 10th Overall in 1998
Starks played only four years with the Ravens, but he made an impact in each of those campaigns. Starks had 20 regular season picks in his Baltimore career. His interception that was taken to the house in Super Bowl XXV helped put the New York Giants away for good on that evening, and he was part of what is one of the best NFL defenses in history.
An instant play-maker upon entering the league, Starks left Baltimore for the Arizona Cardinals in 2002. He last played in the NFL in 2006, and he retired in 2009.
9. Joe Flacco — QB — 18th Overall in 2008
Flacco does not deserve even half of the criticism that he gets on local and national levels. Here are some of the highlights from his six seasons in the NFL to date:
Flacco has, with the Ravens, had a winning record in five of six years. He has notched double-digit victories four times.
Flacco outplayed future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady in an AFC Championship Game.
The Ravens, with Flacco under center, won a Super Bowl.
Quarterbacks are drafted in the first round of a draft to do one thing, and that is win it all. Flacco may not be Brady or Peyton Manning, but he has hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy. That should have been good enough to silence all critics.
8. Todd Heap — TE — 31st Overall in 2001
Heap sacrificed his body for the Ravens, as he dealt with injuries throughout his career. He failed to make appearances in all 16 regular season games in four of ten years with the club. He was, when healthy, an underrated receiving tight end, finding the end zone 41 times in ten seasons with Baltimore.
Heap will forever be a “what could have been” case, in that he could have been a Hall of Fame tight end had he been able to avoid catching the injury bug. He made the Pro Bowl in 2002 and 2003, but he was then banged up early on in the 2004 campaign.
7. Chris McAlister — CB — 10th Overall in 2009
McAlister never had an island named after him. He was, however, one of the best DBs in the game when in his prime, a true shutdown corner that quarterbacks were wise to avoid (when they did so). McAlister had picks in each of his nine seasons with the Ravens, and he led the NFL in interception return yards in 2000.
He was named to the Pro Football Reference 2nd Team All-2000s Team. McAlister was apparently his own worst enemy in taking care of himself, however, as his post-football days have apparently been unkind to him.
6. Peter Boulware — LB — 4th Overall in 1997
Boulware doesn’t get the love that he deserves in some football circles. A hit in the NFL right out of the gate, Boulware won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award for ’97. He made four Pro Bowl teams in his eight years in the league, and, while his career was shortened because of injuries, he still managed to retire with a franchise-high 70 regular season sacks.
The Ravens recognized Boulware for all that he achieved after he retired, adding him to the team’s official Ring of Honor in 2006. Boulware does not have the resume held by those above him in this piece, but that does not take away from what was an impressive career.
5. Terrell Suggs — LB — 10th overall in 2003
Fans may chuckle whenever they hear the phrases “Ball So Hard” or “T-Sizzle.” There is nothing funny about what Suggs has done on the football field. He had 12 sacks in his first pro season, earning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in the process. Suggs has since been named to six Pro Bowls, and he was the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year.
Suggs got to the quarterback ten times in 2013, but he slowed down during the second half of the season. There are questions about his ability and/or his dedication to being in top football shape at this point of his life. Suggs could still be a force if he is healthy and all-in on the cause.
4. Jamal Lewis — RB — 5th Overall in 2000
Lewis will be remembered for being a bruising running back, but don’t let that fool you about how elusive he was for his size. He was responsible for one of the best seasons had by any NFL running back in 2003 when he rushed for 2,066 yards. He was the PFWA MVP and the AP Offensive Player of the Year for that season. In nine years in the league, Lewis rushed for over 1,000 yards on seven occasions.
That there are debates about whether or not Lewis is worthy of being in the Hall of Fame is absurd. He is a member of the 10,000-yard club. Lewis is one of the best running backs of his era, and he should be recognized for being just that.
3. Ed Reed — S — 24th Overall in 2002
Reed was, in his prime, the best safety in the game. A ball-hawk in the secondary, Reed, who has not yet retired, has more interceptions (64) than does any other active player. He has thrice led the NFL in picks.
The 2004 NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year, Reed is a five-time first-team All-Pro. He has, to date, been named to nine Pro Bowl teams throughout his career. There is no debate to be had about Reed having a spot in Canton when he officially calls time on his playing days.
The Hall of Fame should already have started working on his plaque.
2. Jonathan Ogden — T/G — 4th Overall in 1996
Baltimore’s 1996 first-round is one of the best draft rounds had by any NFL team ever. Ogden played down in the trenches, and thus he wasn’t featured in highlight reels and on TV specials. He never made national headlines for what he achieved on the field.
Ogden was merely arguably the best offensive lineman in the game for a decade.
Ogden was a Pro-Bowler ever year from 1997 through 2007. He was a first-team All-Pro on four occasions. Ogden was deservedly inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
1. Ray Lewis — RB — 26th Overall in 1996
The fact of the matter is that you could flip 1 and 2 in this list and not be wrong. Both were all-time greats, and Lewis will, sooner than later, join the previously mentioned Ogden in the Hall of Fame. Lewis was more of a play-maker largely because of the position he played, and thus he lands at the top spot for this piece.
Lewis was named the MVP for Baltimore’s first ever Super Bowl victory. He is a member of two 1st Team All-2000s Teams. Lewis was, from 1997 through 2011, named to 13 Pro Bowl squads, and he was a seven-time first-team All-Pro. There are NFL experts out there who believe that Lewis is the greatest linebacker in the history of the league, and those individuals may be correct.