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Ravens’ All-Time team: The best defensive and special teams players in franchise history | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston picks his all-time top Raven at every position, including coach.

The Ravens are set to begin their 25th season in Baltimore and have already proved they are one of the NFL’s top franchises.

In their short history, the Ravens have won Super Bowl titles in the 2000 and 2012 seasons. Four teams — the Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions — have yet to play in a Super Bowl.

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The Ravens have had only three coaches — John Harbaugh, Brian Billick and the late Ted Marchibroda — but only Marchibroda had a short tenure, lasting just three years because of the team’s financial hardships.

The Ravens are represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame by three players: left tackle Jonathan Ogden, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, all of whom might be the best to ever play their positions. Two more might eventually be enshrined in right guard Marshal Yanda and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

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But before the season begins, we go back in history and present the Ravens’ All-Time team for the franchise’s first 24 years. After picking the best on offense, let’s dig in to the defensive side of the ball.

Haloti Ngata had 25½ sacks and 51 tackles for loss in nine seasons in Baltimore, where he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro.
Haloti Ngata had 25½ sacks and 51 tackles for loss in nine seasons in Baltimore, where he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro.(Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun Phoyo)

Defensive tackles: Sam Adams and Haloti Ngata

The Ravens have had some good talent here over the years, but Adams could shut down the run better than anyone with his penetration. He had a quick first step, which helped make him a good pass rusher, too. Ngata didn’t have Adams’ quickness, but he moved well for a big man. Ngata was the team’s enforcer. Brandon Williams and Tony Siragusa deserve mention, as well as Kelly Gregg, but they were all one-dimensional run stoppers.

Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary celebrates after sacking Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart in the first game of the 1998 season. McCrary, a two-time Pro Bowler, spent six of his 10 NFL seasons in Baltimore.
Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary celebrates after sacking Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart in the first game of the 1998 season. McCrary, a two-time Pro Bowler, spent six of his 10 NFL seasons in Baltimore.(Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)

Defensive ends: Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett

McCrary was one of the team’s top pass rushers because he was relentless in studying his opponent and attacking him on the field. McCrary had an assortment of pass-rushing moves and would use them all on one play if that got him to the quarterback. I’ve seen him crawl to get a sack. Burnett was an underrated force on the legendary 2000 team. He wasn’t fancy, but a tough player who could hold the edge and get pressure. Burnett was one nasty dude.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had 132½ sacks in 16 seasons in Baltimore and won NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had 132½ sacks in 16 seasons in Baltimore and won NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.(Photo by Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

Outside linebackers: Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs

There can’t be anyone else except these two, and you can flip-flop them between the strong and weak side. Boulware finished his career with 70 sacks and was quicker than Suggs. In 16 seasons in Baltimore, Suggs had a franchise-record 132½ sacks. He was a special athlete who could change directions quickly. Suggs had rare strength in his hands and arms, which allowed him to throw offensive linemen. Boulware would just beat his opponent off the snap and around the corner.

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis played 17 seasons, appeared in 249 games and garnered 13 Pro Bowl selections, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and won two Super Bowls, earning Most Valuable Player honors for the Ravens’ victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis played 17 seasons, appeared in 249 games and garnered 13 Pro Bowl selections, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and won two Super Bowls, earning Most Valuable Player honors for the Ravens’ victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.(MCT)

Middle linebacker: Ray Lewis

Lewis played 17 seasons in Baltimore and finished with 2,059 tackles. The Hall of Famer became the face of the franchise and was one of the first middle linebackers who could play sideline-to-sideline. Maybe the most underrated part of his game was his ability to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield one-on-one. Lewis was so good that he helped get assistant coaches such as Chuck Pagano, Rex Ryan, Marvin Lewis, Mike Smith and Jack Del Rio promoted to head coaching positions. That’s impact.

Cornerback Chris McAlister, the 10th overall pick in 1999, played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with the Ravens, finishing his career in Baltimore with 26 interceptions.
Cornerback Chris McAlister, the 10th overall pick in 1999, played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with the Ravens, finishing his career in Baltimore with 26 interceptions.(Gail Burton / Associated Press)

Cornerbacks: Chris McAlister and Duane Starks

If you have any doubt about these picks, go back and watch the game tapes from 2000 or how the Ravens defeated the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. McAlister played like a big linebacker with the finesse of a corner. He was a superb tackler. Starks wasn’t as big, but was just as fast and quick. There wasn’t much of a drop-off if you decided to go after Starks. Current Raven Jimmy Smith deserves to be mentioned, but he’s had too many injuries to supplant Starks. Current cornerback Marlon Humphrey could take Starks’ spot because he has all the tools.

Safety Ed Reed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019 after being named to the Pro Bowl nine times in his 11 seasons with the Ravens.
Safety Ed Reed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019 after being named to the Pro Bowl nine times in his 11 seasons with the Ravens.

Safeties: Ed Reed and Rod Woodson

This is a heck of tandem here. Woodson was on the downside of his career in Baltimore but could still hold his own and was one of the better tacklers on the team, especially in the open field. Reed might have been the best center fielder to ever play the game. He would bait quarterbacks into mistakes and was surprisingly strong. Both players could return punts, and Reed was a factor on special teams. He could beat opponents in several ways. There are some safeties in the Hall of Fame who say that Reed was the best ever.

The Ravens' Justin Tucker is the most accurate kicker in NFL history with a field-goal percentage of .908.
The Ravens' Justin Tucker is the most accurate kicker in NFL history with a field-goal percentage of .908.(Julio Cortez/AP)

Special teams: K Justin Tucker, PR Jermaine Lewis, KR Jacoby Jones, P Sam Koch, S Bennie Thompson, LS Morgan Cox

I love kicker Matt Stover, who is one of my all-time favorite Ravens. He was a standup guy and helped carry the team in 2000. But Justin Tucker is the best kicker ever because he has more range than Stover. Jermaine Lewis would be the punt returner and Jacoby Jones, he of “Dancing with the Stars” fame, would be the kickoff return specialist. There is no one to challenge Sam Koch as the punter, and the top special teams’ performer would be Bennie Thompson. The one-time safety often drew double teams when he was on the field and he’d still beat them. Former outside linebacker Adalius Thomas would be No. 2 behind Thompson. Cox is a three-time Pro Bowl selection at long snapper.

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