Ray Lewis is more than a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a favorite to reach Canton in his first try. He's one of the greatest middle linebackers in pro football history.
In fact, with Lewis likely to be named to the Hall this weekend, some already are labeling him the best ever -- putting him ahead of Hall-of-Famers Dick Butkus, Joe Schmidt, Ray Nitschke, Willie Lanier, Mike Singletary and Jack Lambert -- and that's bound to provoke a debate.
But it's also bound to produce an agreement: At least he's in the conversation.
So now the question: Just who is No. 1? We asked Lewis on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, and he was only too willing to choose.
"Look, I guess I've never been a shy one," he said, laughing. "I think ... I mean, honestly ... I think I've done things to the position because I studied the position so much. And I think what I did with the position ... I don't know if I would put anybody in front of me at that position. And this ain't no disrespect.
"But I'm telling you .... my body of work -- from a football player's perspective -- if we were not breaking down positions ... if we were just talking about a football player, not only what I did for my position, but I'm talking about what I did for the people around me ... I would put my body of work up against any person that's ever played professional sports when it comes to changing a culture and taking a culture and making it better."
Lewis has a point. After his arrival in Baltimore in 1996, the Ravens slowly grew into an AFC power. In fact, from 2000 until Lewis' last season of 2012, they were almost always in the playoffs ... twice won Super Bowls ... and four times reached conference championship games. Moreover, they had one of the best defenses anywhere, anchored by Lewis and, later, safety Ed Reed.
People in Baltimore may certify him as the best middle linebacker ever, but maybe not so much in Chicago. Or Pittsburgh. Or Kansas City. Or Detroit or Green Bay. But with Ray Lewis? There's never a doubt. Nor has there ever been.
And why should there be? He was a 13-time Pro Bowler. A 10-time All-Pro. A two-time Defensive Player of the Year. A two-time Super Bowl champion. A Super Bowl MVP. An all-decade first-teamer. And one of two figures standing in bronze outside the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium.
Quarterback John Unitas is the other.
So who's the best linebacker ever? With Ray Lewis, the answer is easy.
"Look, man I've been saying I'm the best for a long time," he said. "I'm not going to stop saying it now."