Ray Lewis - Dominant Playmaker of His Era

No one needs statistical analysis to tell us Ray Lewis is an all-time great. A case has been made that he was the greatest linebacker of all time. Until this season, possibly his last, he showed little signs of aging. But age and a triceps tear may now have ended his amazing career.

Ray Lewis is the kind of player you absolutely need to watch with your own eyes to appreciate  Stats, advanced or otherwise, do him no justice. If you ever get the opportunity, watch the replays of the 2000 season's Super Bowl or any game from that year. Ray Lewis was super-humanly fast and powerful.

As a fan who'd watched more than his share of football, I was trained to expect patterns. Here's the same old hand off up the middle, RB sees a hole, cuts, 5 yard gain. Pitch to the outside, RB tries to turn the corner, squeezes around the DE, turns up field, might break off a big run if he can shake a tackler. Play action, 10-yd pass to the TE over the middle. Let's face it. A really big chunk of NFL football is predictably boring.

But watching Lewis at his peak confuses the brain. The rules and patterns of typical NFL plays that we expect to see were broken. Instead of RB sees a hole, cuts, 5 yard gain--it's RB sees a hole, cuts, 5-yd...OH MY EVERLIVING GOD! WHAT THE F?!! JESUS HAVE MERCY. WHAT WAS THAT?!!! Ray Lewis just penetrated from the back side of the play and dragged down the RB from behind for a 2-yd loss.

You know those video games like Madden football that usually have some sort of 'cheat code' that allows players to dial in invincibility or supernatural speed and strength attributes to their game characters? At his peak, Lewis was just like that. Lewis had the cheat code of reality in his DNA.

Although numbers aren't required, that's never stopped us before. So here are +EPA numbers for the top producing LBs of the NFL digital era. (Data begins in 2000). Except for the column on the far right, all numbers are per game averages. The right-most column is the player's grand total for the era.

Although this doesn't show us career numbers before 2000, they still show how dominant and consistent Lewis was among his peers. Even well into his mid-thirties, he was among the very top play-makers.


Although some LBs like Suggs are outside guys or pass-rush specialists, I wanted to show what Baltimore is missing this season. They're already without Suggs, so the loss of Lewis (who had clearly dropped a notch in performance this season) may be especially costly.

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10 Responses to “Ray Lewis - Dominant Playmaker of His Era”

  1. Andrew Meyer says:

    OH MY EVERLIVING GOD! As a long time reader and occasional commenter, I knew some version of the post was coming. Very well done, he really changed the middle linebacker position.

    I'm just happy I could enjoy his playing without worrying about Aaron Rodgers or Brett Farve.

  2. Anonymous says:

    To me, Lewis is always going to be the guy who ratted out his friends to save his own butt.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I don't think Ray can be summed up or even estimated in statistics. He is the greatest linebacker of all time, and arguably the greatest defensive player of all time. When one considers what he has meant to the Ravens over the history of their franchise, he may even be the greatest of all time.

    The fact that people still harp on trumped up charges from decades ago only insults their own intelligence. He is a servant of the lord and true devotee of the game.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Ray Lewis was clearly not very good. He was just the product of a system that made him the focus. His theatrics made him a joke.

  5. tmk says:

    Ray Lewis was/is a gridiron warrior!

  6. Anonymous says:

    As a Chicago Bears fan, it's hard not to love these statistics. That fact that Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs have a total of 7,6 avg EPA is pretty amazing.

  7. Anonymous says:

    "Anonymous says:
    Friday, October 19, 2012
    Ray Lewis was clearly not very good. He was just the product of a system that made him the focus. His theatrics made him a joke."

    "Clearly"? Lol.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Lewis was a monster, and probably the best of all time. If you look at Utlacjer's EPA at the same time though (very similar to Lewis's) that should shut up anyone yapping that he's overrated.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Urlacher's* sorry phone typing...

  10. Anonymous says:

    He was a model of consistency at the Linebacker position. Regardless of the Defensive Coordinator or System in which he played he was able to thrive.
    Most importantly when the Defense needed a big stop near the end of a game Ray Lewis was there (stuffing Sproles in San Diego '09 comes to mind).

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