Where does Ray Lewis rank among the greatest players of the decade?


Leave it to “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” to jump the gun on an otherwise interesting promotion for the network this week.
We’re still over two months away from the start of the 2009 season—the last season of the decade—but ESPN.com has decided it’s time to hand out its NFL all-decade honors.  I guess we don’t need to bother playing this season.
The Ravens were well represented with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed being named to the all-decade defense while the first draft pick in franchise history, Jonathan Ogden, was the lone Raven on the all-decade offense.  Fullback Lorenzo Neal was also named to the team, but his one season in Baltimore hardly constitutes him as an all-decade representative for the Ravens.
The Ravens were also ranked the fifth-best team of the decade.
ESPN closed out the week by revealing their top 25 players of the decade on Friday, and this is the list with which Ravens fans are sure to take issue.  Lewis, the only player to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice this decade, ranks only ninth, behind defensive ends Jason Taylor (fifth) and Michael Strahan (eighth).
With all due respect to Taylor and Strahan, easily the two best defensive ends since 2000, neither player was as dominating throughout the decade as Lewis.
He’s easily the best defensive player of the last 10 years, and the accolades support it.  Lewis has seven Pro Bowl appearances in the decade compared to six for Taylor and four for Strahan.  With Lewis leading the way, the Ravens have ranked no lower than sixth in total defense every year of the decade except 2002—the year of the team’s salary cap purge when Lewis missed 11 games with a shoulder injury.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning clearly belong at the top of the list, but Lewis should be in the top three or four instead of barely cracking the top 10.
Ogden and Reed finished 11th and 12th respectively.
As for my picks of the decade, you’ll have to wait until after 2009, the appropriate time to name an all-decade team.  I’m sure ESPN will manage to do a revised list then too.
Here’s a little something to emphasize my point about Lewis and to keep you salivating for the start of training camp.