I'm counting down the top 10 players in the AFC North, one per day, as we head into the 2012 NFL season. These rankings are based on 2011 performance only and are not projections of these players' 2012 success. In a division this good, ranking just the top 10 isn't easy.
Few defenders have engendered as much fear in their opponents than Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis. In his 16 seasons in the NFL, Lewis has notched nearly 2,000 tackles, has 40.5 sacks, 18 forced fumbles (and 18 fumble recoveries), 31 interceptions and three touchdowns.
But at 37 years old, Lewis is showing the signs of age. It's not that he missed games last year with turf toe—that can happen to any player, no matter how old or young—it's that as the season wore on, you could clearly see that Lewis wasn't exactly the same player that he used to be.
He had some trouble in coverage and against the run, and this year, he may see fewer snaps to help preserve his energy. But Lewis still had 95 total tackles—the most of any Ravens defender—two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception last year. And he most certainly belongs in the top 10 in the AFC North.
The fact that Lewis is older and slowing down a bit as a result is cold comfort for the offensive linemen charged with stopping him. He's still better than a great many of his younger contemporaries in the league and the leadership qualities he has displayed make him an invaluable member of this Ravens team for more than just his style of play.