Brian Urlacher: Ray Lewis is the best middle linebacker ever

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Two future Hall of Fame middle linebackers have retired this offseason, but if they go into the Hall of Fame together when they both become eligible in 2018, Brian Urlacher has no illusions about who the best middle linebacker in their class will be.

In fact, Urlacher says that not only is Ray Lewis the best middle linebacker of his era, but Lewis is the best middle linebacker ever to play the game of football.

“If I am lucky enough to go in with Ray, I will say this about Ray: I think I was pretty good, but Ray is the best of all time,” Urlacher told Andrew Siciliano on NFL Network. “His numbers, to the guys that played with him, you watch him, he did it the right way. He played hard. He is the best middle linebacker of all time. If I get a chance to go into the Hall of Fame with him, that would be awesome. He was great. I am up there I think, but not quite. The longevity he had was crazy, 17 years.”

As great as Urlacher was, he’s right that Lewis’s achievements in the NFL surpass his own. Urlacher was an eight-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro, one-time second-team All-Pro and one-time NFL defensive player of the year. Lewis was a 13-time Pro Bowler, seven-time first-team All-Pro, three-time second-team All-Pro, two-time NFL defensive player of the year and a Super Bowl MVP.

I would tend to agree with Urlacher that Lewis is the best of them all. PFT Planet, tell us what you think.

112 responses to “Brian Urlacher: Ray Lewis is the best middle linebacker ever

  1. Anybody who picks anybody over Butkus can only be too young to have seen Butkus play, or is a blind Ravens fan, or knows nothing about football.

  2. Best ever. Hmm… He was great for a long time, really good for a while, & middle-of-the-road towards the end. But heck he played for almost two decades. Maybe he was the best ever. A strong argument can be made for him, and for a handful of others.

  3. This one is way too hard to vote for…I voted for Butkus but also wanted to vote Nitschke and Lambert then Lewis, Urlacher and Lanier tie? A tough one to decide for sure. I think the old school guys though were the best (IMO). That isn’t taking away from Lewis or Urlacher and their accomplishments on the field. Two of the greats to play the game for certain.

  4. The numbers do speak for themselves. If given the choice between the two players at the peak of their careers (and you can’t go wrong with either) I would take Urlacher for his all around playmaking ability… INTs, run stopping, sideline-to-sideline ability. However, over the course of the entire career… it is Ray.

  5. When it comes to smarts and athleticism at the MLB position, Ray Lewis takes the cake. When it comes to toughness and intimidation, Jack Lambert and Dick Butkus were the best.

  6. Cant argue but man his antics got old. Never seen someone crying so much in my life.

  7. Whoa. Urlacher isn’t even the best MLB to play for the Bears! Can this poll even exist without an option to vote for Mike Singletary???

  8. And Urlacher was a good mlb-good not great, and definitely no HOFer. Just because you play mlb for the Bears does not automatically make you a HOF mlb.

  9. always great to hear a player’s peers giving him his due. of course whether or not he is the best ever is an opinion…for my money he is the best of his generation and in any conversation he will be very highly regarded as the best ever. from sideline to sideline no one ever better. combine that with his leadership, his intelligence, and his knack for big plays, he is a certain hofer and quite possiblly the best ever

  10. There is absolutely no doubt about this. How many MLBs (or any LBs) have played 17 years? He was effective, even if he was a bit of a liability in pass coverage later on, for the entirety of his career. He was a guy that you schemed around because even when his speed failed him, his instincts were goo enough to diagnose plays based upon the down/distance/situation. Right place, right time, and right when his team needed him. In the end it was the loss of speed that ended up doing him in and his inability to get there when he could have years before.

    Ray Lewis is the best at his position in the history of the league and without a doubt a first ballot Hall of Famer. And he was THIS CLOSE to being a Cleveland Brown. I mean THIS CLOSE. To have had a chance to see the entire career of two of the unrivaled GOATs at their positions (Ray Lewis and Jerry Rice) in my 36 years is amazing.

  11. As a die hard ravens fan and lifelong Baltimore resident, I have watched Ray his entire career obviously; but I also am being objective when I say that Ray Lewis is the G.O.A.T. It’s not just imo, just ask his counterparts that played the game. I have always had the utmost respect for Urlacher and one of the reasons is because of his honesty and candor. He is a hall of famer but even He acknowledges that Ray is the greatest MLB of all time. It’s even more telling given that Urlacher played in the same city as some of the greatest linebackers in history , but yet he still says Ray is the best. I’m sure all the haters will be on full display but screw them. Stats don’t lie(not even going to bore you with all Ray’s stats because we will be here all day), and obviously neither does Mr. Urlacher.

  12. Anybody can say their era was the best. But put them all together. Ray has accomplished more than any of them. I’m on par with Urlacher on this one.

  13. How is Mike Singletary not an options here???

    10 time Pro Bowl Selection

    8 time First team All Pro

    2 time defensive player of the year

    Hall of Famer

    Nuff said!

  14. What a Stand up Guy Urlacher is!!! For all those who Say Ray this and Ray that!! Ray Was and still is the Greatest of all time. Others are talented but very few will ever do half the THings Ray did . 30 int 30 sacks big play after big play, for 17 years. the Average Nfl Career is 3 or 4 years but 17. Last he was the Face of a dominating defense for all of his Career. Leave the Negative Comments away ,as a Football Player he was the best to play

  15. I agree but NOT because of meaningless voted-on awards.

    Just watch the games. Look how many games Ray Lewis(and HIS defense) single-handed my won. Not only won… But won while being sabotaged by people like Kyle Boller, Brian Billick… And more recently(before his amazing playoff run this past year…) Flacco and harbaugh.

    They’ve changed defensive coordinators over the years numerous times, but Ray Lewis was always the leader of that defense and team.

    And he should have had at least one more ring in the 2006 season!

  16. 6250claimer said: Anybody who picks anybody over Butkus can only be too young to have seen Butkus play, or is a blind Ravens fan, or knows nothing about football.

    Completely agree. Butkus played on bad knees on an average (at best) defense, but, yet, he played with unparalleled tenacity, toughness and skill. No one did more with such a limited supporting cast. He was great in both run and pass defense. Also, he had some ball skills and played on offense occasionally.

    It’s Butkus, all day, every day.

  17. Too bad Ray didn’t share the “prayers” he uses to get back on the field after injuries with Urlacher. Urlacher could have had another 3-4 years left in the tank!

  18. Do you vote for the Stones over the Beatles? You’re just happy that we were able to enjoy them both.

  19. He was the best MLB *I’ve* ever seen play. As a Ravens fan, I got used to it and was spoiled actually. Towards the end though, his legend exceeded his actual play on the field. But when he was in his prime, man oh man what a treat. I’m only 32, so I’m waaaaay too young to really appreciate Butkus and Nitschke and the like. But I hold them in the highest regard, and maybe they were better than Ray, I don’t know. It’s definitely arguable. But for his era, there was none better.

  20. I’d say Ray Lewis is the #3 ILB of all time, behind Butkus and Singletary. I’m still amazed the article and the poll neglected to include Singletary.

  21. Ray Lewis was really great when he had Sam Adams & Tony Siragusa in front of him. He probably had the greatest peak of any linebacker, but I’m not sure he was GOAT.

  22. To the person who said he would take Urlacher over Lewis in their primes for Urlacher’s INT capabilities:

    Career INTS: Urlacher 22, Lewis 31.

  23. I don’t think you can compare players across different decades. The game has changed significantly and comparing players like John Unitas to Joe Montana makes little sense.

    I admire the hell out of both of those players but I do not think Joe Montana could have played in the 1950s and had the same level of success that he experienced in the 1980s-1990s. The game has changed .

    The middle LB position is more of a throw back spot where it is a bit less changed. It is still a different game today. Ray Lewis is certainly a great player and deserves all of the respect he receives. But so do all of the other LBs mentioned.

    Is Ray the best of all time…maybe. I am a Ravens fan and would tend to agree but I was also a fan of a lot of the other LBs mentioned. I love football and players like number 52 made the game as great as it is.

    Those who know that this guy or that guy are the best sound childish. I would love to have had all of these guys on my home team and if all of you who disagree are honest with yourselves you would say the same thing.

    All of the LBs we are talking about are some of the best players in the game. Ray was certainly among the best of them.

  24. Everybody entitled to an opinion, I’m going with Nitchke, or Butkis.
    Lewis was good, but if he hasn’t hid that white suit, he may not have been in the league that long..
    Willis and Bowman will be the best tandom of all time by the end of their careers!!

  25. Really. You ever heard of London Fletcher. An iron MAN of Player and a person get a grip.

  26. I am in my 50s and watched Butkus play. He washer intimidating than ray but was in an era when you could get away with slot more. His speed from sideline to sideline was not even close to rays. Only one close from that era was Willie Lanier. Butkus was great. But ray Is the goat

  27. I think it’s easy to debate xs and os and who hot the hardest, who was fastest sideline to sideline, who covered TEs thebest. I think we could come up with a dozen names based on those qualifications that all deserve some discussion .

    Where I think Ray, and I believe this is giant, separated himself was off the field and as a teammate. In Lewis, Baltimore had a locker room policeman that was respected and listened to. you had a playerthat inarguably motivated everyone around him and made his teammates better. Ray didn’t tolerate slacking and that, in my opinion was his greatest attribute. in the last dozen years, only two qbs that are not SUREFIRE hall of famers have won the Super Bowl. Trent Dilfer and Joe Flacco.

    the others to win,Roethlisberger, Brees, Manning, Manning, Brady, Rodgers…. are all HOFers today. Flacco may join that group, but sure isn’t that class as of today.

    the fact that Ray was the undeniable face and leader of those two teams…. to me gives him the nod. Without Ray’s defense Trent Dilfer is not sporting a Ring.

  28. A lot of these comments remind of me how people feel Jim Brown is the GOAT because of the way he manhandled fat linebackers who smoked cigarettes on the bench and worked second jobs in the offseason.

  29. Lambert was hands down. His tryout was in a parking lot where he slid in gravel got up and the scout said my god there’s gravel stuck in your knees. His knees were badly bleeding. To which he responded to the scout. “so what” doesn’t beat a double homicide. But none the less very impressive!

  30. Ray Lewis is probably one of the greatest LB’s of all time, last season he started slowing badly but he played well overall and it was a nice way to go out with the ring. So from a football point of view Lewis is no doubt one of the best.

    BUT to me his legacy is tarnished due to the terrible incident in Atlanta and the plea bargain. If Lewis wasn’t a famous LB i’m sure things would have been different regarding his sentencing

  31. No doubt the G.O.A.T.
    So smooth and fluid flowing to any ball carrier, hard hitting, covering from side line to sideline and shedding blocks to stuff the run. Frustrating all running backs from Eddie George, to the Bus. Disrupting the plays setting up our defensive backs to make plays. Making key plays when they count. And, matching some of the best play calling the league will ever see – by Payton Manning, Tom Brady, too many others to name here, and the never going down – Big Ben.

    Someone will come along eventually to replace him, but by then they’ll be pulling flags rather than making tackles.

  32. The game changes over time so its hard to say who was the best ever.
    but if I had to choose I would pick
    MIKE SINGLETARY. because he ran the Best definse the game has ever seen. that 4-6 was unbeatable.

  33. Seau played every lb position in 3-4, 4-3, and nickel, and dominated in coverage and against the run. Am I bisaed? Absolutely, but I would take Junior over any linebacker in the game. Ever.

  34. London Fletcher never missed a game in his entire career and he is still going. He has already played in more games than Lewis in 2 less years. And he is unbelievable underrated because he doesn’t call attention to himself. He just shuts up and dominates in every game, even last year at 37 years old.

  35. Like any other position in a TEAM sport, you have to look at context and support structure. The MLB position is designed to be protected by the DL, specifically the tackles. If the tackles are dominating and occupy blockers then the MLB position is made easier.

    Look at who Lambert, Nitchke, Lewis, Urlacher, and Butkus had playing in front of them. Count the Pro-bowlers and HoF quality DLs. When you do this you’ll see that Butkus was by far the best and most dominating MLB in NFL history. He did it while exposed to OL blocking on most every play. His career was cut short because of the fact he was hit high and low all the time due to his DL being mediocre.

    Most of the guys on this list had a clear path the to the ball carrier and the QB because they had quality DTs in front getting double teamed.

  36. Is Urlacher considering the fact Lewis was an accomplice to murder? I wonder if that will matter to the HoF voters. Probably not.

  37. Ray Lewis is the Greatest of All Time. Leader, Mentor, Machine, and Over achiever. Yes, he had an off the field incident but between the white lines nobody did it better or longer! I still remember the loudspeaker at Memorial Stadium in 96/97 when the game was far out of reach and all you heard echo through the stadium as the crowd rolled out was #52 RAY LEWIS ON THE TACKLE! ALL DAY RAY!

  38. two words: Lawrence Taylor.
    the fact that no one said the greatest lb to ever play football’s name here… LT revolutionized the position… starting to wonder if anyone here even knows what a football looks like .

  39. Have been watching football for over fifty years and know this to be true you can’t compare former players with current players. The game has changed. Today’s players are big, faster, and better conditioned athletes . That being said Ray was one of the better of his generation, but to say he is the best …..nah. If you haven’t seen many play I can understand your point of view.

  40. I agree with Greglloydrules!! There is so much that goes into the position. Smarts and athleticism no one touches Lewis. But toughness lambert and Butkus. I am a ravens fan, but also a football fan. These debates are fun but just no true way to compare generations as the game has evolved so much with speed and rules

  41. Why do people keep talkin about the murder case I believe he was found not guilty in you criminal justice system nobody talked about it until the superbowl came up now yall acting like It’s January 2000 all over again people always try to bring people down ray ray went out on top deal with it

  42. Dick Butkus…Chicago Vocational…Jensen Movers…University of Illinois….Chicago Bears….hometown guy. Best. Middle. Linebacker. Ever.

  43. He is one of the best for sure. Rating any of these great players, including Mike Singletary, over the other is a waste of time. Every fan would have wanted any of them on their team.

  44. Ray is the G.O.A.T but it’s Ray Nitschke and not Lewis.

    He was the leader and heart of the best defense for the longest time. When Nitschke became the full time starter in 1960 the Packers were a top 4 scoring defense for 10 straight years, and were number one or two for 7 of those years.

    I can argue that the 1962 Packers defense was the best of all time.

    Butkus was next IMO. As a player he was as close to Nitschke as anyone. Intimidating, tackled, you name it but he played in chicago so that right there is a knock against him. He made the bears D go but that D was not on par with the Packers.

    Urlacher doesn’t get the credit he deserves IMO. Just his sheer size, combined with that speed changed how offenses could play. That’s not a measurable but I saw it every week. He was the perfect MLB for the bears style of defense.

    I can’t even consider the murder. Everything after he stuck that knife into someone else should be expunged from the book. He’s a POS murderer.

  45. Ray should never be considered for ANY accolades. He got away with a double murder, everyone knows it, only Ravens fans ignore it. If he wasn’t a football player making millions, he would still be in jail right now. Don’t know why anyone is talking about him being in the HOF, he will NEVER be voted in to it.

  46. “two words: Lawrence Taylor.
    the fact that no one said the greatest lb to ever play football’s name here… LT revolutionized the position… starting to wonder if anyone here even knows what a football looks like .”

    No kidding……70 comments and only one mention of Lawrence Taylor! Same goes for Singletary. What the heck is wrong with you people? Pathetic……..these guys redefined the role for Urlacher and Lewis. You can’t dis LT for his transgressions off the field while glorifying Lewis as an icon.

  47. Ray is the best without a doubt. Butkus was a very dirty player according to today’s rules. If ray could do what dick was allowed to he would have killed someone on the field.

  48. I agree that rating players of different eras is a waster of time. The best inside linebacker I ever saw play (and I didn’t see everybody) was Vaughn Johnson who played with the Saints from the late 80s to early 90s. Few remember him today and he’s never in anyone’s conversation about the greatest ever, but go ask Roger Craig who was the best he ever played against and this is the guy he’ll say. He was simply a beast.

  49. Its very hard to compare different generations and different Eras. To me, Jack Lambert was the greatest of his Era. Lewis was the greatest of his. But not sure how you can really compare each of them due to different eras and different ways of playing football. So, in respect to each player, They were the greatest of their eras.

  50. “How is Mike Singletary not an options here???”

    Singletary is the third best MLB in Bears history, maybe 4th best, so how he could possibly be considered the best MLB of all time is hard to fathom.

    Singletary was a very good player who played on a GREAT defense. If you ask the players on that team, Dan Hampton is generally considered the best defensive player, followed by Richard Dent and Steve McMichael.

    Ask the players who have played alongside Urlacher and he has always been the best player on that D. Not that they haven’t had other terrific defensive players (Tillman, Briggs, Peppers, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris before he got hurt and slow, etc) but Urlacher has always been the center of that D.

    Singletary admitted when he coached Lewis in Baltimore that Lewis was a far better player than he ever was, and that he had really nothing to teach him about playing the position. To some extent that’s just Singletary showing some humility, but it’s also true.

    Ray Lewis may be a creep as a person (or he may not, I don’t know him) but as a football player he embodies everything you want, and as a MLB he was simply the best mix of speed, size, ferocity, intelligence, toughness and total commitment to the team that has ever been.

  51. boy, this is tough. i am going to go against the grain, however and say that I think Urlacher was a better MLB overall than Rey. Both were the centerpiece of defenses that dominated games and found victories in situations where their offenses provided nothing. Rey was much more splashy. He was the vocal leader and the inspiration of a brutal defense. I will give him that he impacted more games more often than Urlacher. I think objectively, Urlacher was a more complete MLB though. I think his play made it easier for his defensive teammates to make an impact. I think Urlacher played flawlessly to a greater extent than Rey. I think that he is quite possibly the best all around MLB to ever play the game when considering all aspects of the position.

  52. You can’t possibly compare these players. One era of stopping smash mouth runners vs. linebackers that have to play the pass almost as much as a DB. 4-3 defenses vs. 3-4 defenses. Totally different game. Can’t be done.

  53. Sorry you all can click the thumbs down button but Dick Buttkis is the best ever, Lambert is two on this list, and I am sure some steelers who argue that the list is missing a name. Urlacher is not even first on the Bears list, 3rd or 4th. But there is also a huge difference between a MLB and a ILB. Ray might be the best pure ILB to play the game. Urlacher is the best cover-2 MLB.

  54. Urlacher has definitely hit his head to many times and its a good thing he’s retiring. I never forget the day the “BUS” ran him over at the goal line on route to Big Bens first superbowl win………As far as R. lewis, he was Good, sure but”Greatest ever” no way. Too Funny!

  55. London Fletcher deserves a spot on that list IMO. Right with ray in stats with not even close to the supporting cast. London is really underrated. Ray may be the best but London is right there with him.

  56. Ray Lewis dealt with his legal difficulties like a man and then became a SB MVP. He then went on to motivate and inspire countless players and others to help them succeed. His retirement announcement was so profound, it motivated the Ravens to deliver him a second SB ring so he could retire a World Champion. He is a class act through and through and his spirit will live on in the Ravens’ locker room for many years to come.

  57. I can argue that the 1962 Packers defense was the best of all time.


    @atthemurph – you can argue that all you want, but the 1969 Vikings defense was better. Statistically speaking that defense is the best of all time.

  58. Again as I posted earlier, better MLBs in NFL history than Ray Lewis:

    Randy Gradishar
    Jack Lambert
    Nick Bouniconti
    Willy Lanier
    Ray Nitschke
    Dick Butkus

    In no particular order

  59. 1962 Packers allowed 10.6 points per game
    a total of 149 points for the season. The 1969 Vikings gave up 133 points all season, 9.5 ppg.

  60. Lambert was a joke. He was pretty much just a big safety. The only time he looked good is when he came through clean. He had Greene and company tying up every lineman so no one was left to block him. And if a lineman did get on him he was pushed back so far that he didn’t even get in on the tackle.

    He’s in the HoF solely because of the TEAM SB wins and looked good solely because he played behind that line. He was no more than 215 lbs, but he didn’t need to be heavier because he was almost always free to the ball carrier.

    I watched every LB on that list during their playing days. Butkus had no equal. He’d tackle the blocker AND the runner, and drop into coverage.

    As for being a complete backer – Lambert had 28 INTs over 11 complete years. Butkus had 22 over a much shorter career. And he had 27 fumble recoveries as well.

  61. May 23, 2013, 1:27 PM EDT
    Ray Lewis dealt with his legal difficulties like a man and then became a SB MVP. He then went on to motivate and inspire countless players and others to help them succeed. His retirement announcement was so profound, it motivated the Ravens to deliver him a second SB ring so he could retire a World Champion. He is a class act through and through and his spirit will live on in the Ravens’ locker room for many years to come.

    You must write children’s books professionally…..Ray Lewis was involved in something resulting in two dead men.. He plead quilty to obstructing justice… Putting lipstick on a pig still gives you a pig…Ray is no role model except for the morally blind

  62. Jack Ham was an outside LB. Not a mike. Totally different position… OLBS…

    Lawrence Taylor
    Jack Ham
    Bobby Bell
    Matt Blair
    Wilbur Marshall
    Ted Hendricks
    Andre Tippett
    Seth Joyner
    Kevin Greene

    To name a few GREAT ones!

  63. Absolutely an absurd result. Ask any with access to film of the candidates include in this poll, Lanier wins hands down. No debate. Only those too young to watch Lanier in person or on TV would vote for Ray Lewis.

  64. By no means scientific, but the people have spoken Ray is the Best !
    Ray Lewis 42.52% (5,798 votes)
    Dick Butkus 28.99% (3,953 votes)
    Jack Lambert 10.57% (1,442 votes)
    Ray Nitschke 8.7% (1,187 votes)
    other 4.99% (680 votes)
    Brian Urlacher 2.57% (351 votes)
    Willie Lanier 1.66% (226 votes)
    Total Votes: 13,637

    And now he is about to Tackle Kilimanjaro, for charity. You deadbeats can bring up a 13 year ago mistake in which two hoodlums died all you want. Ray has gone on to better things and charity works speaks for itself, and the lives he has improved.

  65. OLB:

    Don’t forget Chuck Howley, still the only member of the losing SB team to be selected MVP. He was simply the best of his generation.

  66. “Popular” does not equal “best”. If it did then Tebow would already be in the HoF.

  67. He’s also the greatest to ever survive a murder rap. He’s a fraud. Lets hope he disappears. I for one will boycott him when he’s on ESPN !!

  68. No MLB has been as irreplaceable in year 17. The Super Bowl run after his return shows that Ray had a way to make up for deficiencies in his tangibles with intangibles. In the years where he was physically dominant it seems there’s almost no argument. No one has combined tangibles and intangibles at LB on the field like him. And NO ONE has been as important for as long. Butkus did his thing for half the time and last I checked, hadn’t eaten any grass.

  69. Hello he is the best haters. C’mon the only player to have 40 sacks and 40 picks in a career. Intimidation? So Ray doesn’t intimidate you? Butkus was very good no doubt but you must consider it was a totally different game speed speed speed I’ve seen the tape I’ve seen the games with Butkus, I may not have seen them live but I still seen them. Nobody had the instincts of Ray. Just because you don’t like him as a person does not mean he isn’t the greatest at his position. SMH

  70. Make no mistake the best NFL defense of all time was the 2000 Ravens. Fewest points AND fewest rushing yards over a 16 game schedule. That group gave up fewer than 1,000 yards rushing for the ENTIRE regular season.

    Ray Lewis was the undisputed leader of that squad and he is undoubtedly the GOAT!

  71. @purpleandblack2000 – Wrong.


    1969 Vikings was the best NFL defense of all time. Period. They gave up 3.2 yds per carry average vs. the rush and 3.6 yards average vs. the pass.

  72. bunkslurpscrabmustard says:
    May 23, 2013 9:39 AM
    Haters commence! He’s the GOAT, everyone knows it but so many scared to admit it.

    Well, I have to admit that Ray Lewis is waaaaaay better at obstructing justice than Dick Butkus.:)

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