With Sports Illustrated releasing its list of all-time best NFL players by jersey number this week, I decided to look back at the 15-year history of the Baltimore Ravens to construct a list of the greatest players for Nos. 1-99.
Part 3 (41-60) presents the most obvious choice on the list—who was also chosen as the greatest player to wear his number in the history of the National Football League—as well as two of the most obscure numbers in team history.
41 Frank Walker (2008-09)
He was never popular among fans due to his propensity for drawing penalty flags, but Walker was not as bad as some made him out to be. Injuries often forced the backup into starter duty where his weaknesses were exposed.
His only competition for this number was Ralph Staten, a once-promising safety who was jettisoned from the team due to character issues in the spring of 1999. Regardless of where you stand with Walker, he is a pretty clear choice and has at least one big fan on YouTube.
Knowing Walker, it would not be a complete shock to find out he made this video himself.
42 Anthony Mitchell (2000-02)
I went back and forth between Mitchell and fullback Lorenzo Neal, but Mitchell’s three seasons in Baltimore allowed him to grab the honor. Mitchell spent his first two seasons with the Ravens as a special teams contributor before his workload in the secondary increased in 2002, starting six games and grabbing three interceptions.
Of course, the mere mention of Mitchell makes Baltimore think about a certain blocked field goal return in Nashville (check the 3:30 mark).
43 Haruki Nakamura (2008-present)
Despite a promising future, Nakamura has done little to distinguish himself other than contributing on special teams in his first two seasons. However, it tops the work of other defensive backs like Vashone Adams and Anthony Poindexter.
44 Jason Brookins (2000-01)
The big tailback rushed for 551 yards in 2001, beating out the likes of Tony Vinson and Willie Gaston. Brookins is most remembered for leaving the Packers camp a year later after the staff asked him for his playbook, the traditional sign that a player is being cut. It turns out the coaching staff only wanted to add some new plays and by the time Brookins received the message, Green Bay coach Mike Sherman decided to cut the running back.
And the Baltimore coaching staff questioned his decision-making and intelligence while with the Ravens. Imagine that.
45 Corey Harris (1998-2001)
Harris spent most of his Ravens career as a backup and solid return man, but stepped up in a big way when safety Kim Herring went down with a sprained ankle in the 2000 playoffs. He started against Tennessee and Oakland and started all 16 at strong safety the following season.
46 B.J. Ward (2005)
The Florida State safety played in 15 games in 2005, making 11 tackles and forcing a fumble. Why is he the pick at No. 46? There is no record of any other player wearing the number in the regular season for the Ravens.
47 Will Demps (2002-2005)
The undrafted rookie was the surprise of training camp in 2002, not only winning a roster spot but becoming a starting safety next to Ed Reed for four seasons. Demps returned an interception for a touchdown in the Ravens’ only playoff game during his time in Baltimore, a 20-17 loss to the Titans in January 2004.
48 Frank Hartley (1996)
If linebacker Edgar Jones — who had previously worn Nos. 91 and 84 before switching to 48 this offseason — makes the 53-man roster this season, he immediately grabs the distinction. Until then, the tight end Hartley holds this spot despite never making a catch in eight games in 1996.
Don’t worry, I didn’t remember him either.
49 Chad Williams (2002-05)
Williams is the easy choice after playing four seasons in Baltimore, registering eight interceptions and scoring three touchdowns as a backup safety.
50 Antwan Barnes (2007-present)
Though Dunbar graduate Tommy Polley and reserve linebacker Brad Jackson earn strong consideration, Barnes wins the honor with five career sacks and strong special teams play over his first three seasons with the Ravens. Despite a high ceiling, Barnes has yet to provide a consist impact as a pass rusher off the edge, something he hopes to change this season.
51 Cornell Brown (1997-2000, 2002-04)
Some will argue special teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo for this spot, but Cornell Brown is the obvious choice despite wearing No. 90 in his second stint with the Ravens. Brown made 25 starts and was very good against the run, ofter sharing time with Peter Boulware when the Pro Bowl linebacker was ailing.
52 Ray Lewis (1996-present)
Never mind that Lewis was selected by SI.com as the best ever to wear the jersey number in the NFL. When you think of the Baltimore Ravens, No. 52 is the image that overwhelmingly comes to mind.
One of the greatest defensive players ever.
53 Jameel McClain (2008-present)
Tyrell Peters, T.J. Slaughter, and the injury-cursed Dan Cody also wore the number, but McClain has done just enough in special teams and passing downs to grab the distinction. His stature can rise even higher if he earns the starting job at inside linebacker this season.
54 Roderick Green (2004-05)
Green never realized his full potential as a Raven, but he is a marginally-better choice than Tyrus McCloud, Shannon Taylor, or current linebacker Prescott Burgess for No. 54.
55 Terrell Suggs (2003-present)
Many feel Suggs has never lived up the hype or the record-setting contract inked in 2009, but he is one of the most complete outside linebackers in the league when healthy and motivated. His two-sack performance against the Steelers in the AFC Championship two seasons ago was borderline heroic after sustaining a shoulder injury against the Titans a week earlier.
More sentimental fans will argue for Jamie Sharper — who would be a unanimous choice for any linebacker number other than 55, 52, or 58 — but Suggs has had the superior career.
56 Ed Hartwell (2001-04)
Hartwell put his name on the Baltimore linebacker map when he led the team in tackles in 2002 after Ray Lewis was sidelined with a shoulder injury. A good linebacker in his own right, Hartwell was overshadowed in his last two seasons with the Ravens, a palpable frustration he even voiced before departing for Atlanta in 2005.
57 Bart Scott (2002-08)
Just as popular with the media as he was with the fans, Scott was an undrafted linebacker who made himself into a Pro Bowl force during his seven seasons with the Ravens. His “hot sauce” tackle of Reggie Bush gained notoriety, but the linebacker will always be remembered for a hit he laid on a certain Pittsburgh quarterback.
The number is currently reserved in honor of the heroic O.J. Brigance — who is certainly deserving as he continues to fight ALS — but Brigance would be the first to tell you Scott is the greatest Raven to don the No. 57.
58 Peter Boulware (1997-2005)
The franchise’s all-time sack leader dealt with knee and shoulder injuries during his career, but he was a force as a pass rusher and made himself into an every-down linebacker after playing defensive end at Florida State. Boulware earned four trips to the Pro Bowl, won the 1997 Defensive Rookie of the Year, and is a member of the Ravens Ring of Honor.
59 Dannell Ellerbe (2009-present)
Prior to the 2009 season, long snapper Joe Maese (2001-04) was the clear-cut selection here, but the undrafted Ellerbe made the 53-man roster and eventually wrestled away the starting inside linebacker spot from Tavares Gooden in the final month of his rookie season. Ellerbe’s interception against Oakland in Week 17 helped preserve a 21-13 win and a postseason berth for the 9-7 Ravens.
60 Jason Brown (2005-08)
Super Bowl-winning center Jeff Mitchell was blossoming into a Pro Bowl-caliber player before signing with the Carolina Panthers in 2001, allowing Jason Brown to seize recognition for this number. Drafted in the fourth round in 2005, Brown began his NFL career at left guard before moving to his college position of center in 2008. It earned him a huge payday with the St. Louis Rams the following offseason, as the Ravens could not afford to keep Brown.
Next up: For numbers 61-80, we will dive into the trenches with the offensive line, with a few obvious choices and several integers where we need to look long and hard to find a representative.