Timeline of Ray Lewis' career
When the Ravens made Ray Lewis their second-ever draft pick, they knew they were getting a highly productive player from the talent-rich University of Miami. What they could not have known was that Lewis would become perhaps the greatest middle linebacker in history and one of the faces of his NFL generation. Through 17 seasons of controversy and excellence, Lewis' Baltimore ride has never been boring:


On April 20, the Ravens select Lewis with their second pick in the first round of the NFL draft, 26th overall. Lewis, undersized at 6 feet 1, 235 pounds, is considered something of a consolation prize after the Ravens miss out on Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy (out of the league since 2004) at the top of the first round. But Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda says of Lewis: “When you watch him on film, he catches your eye and you love to watch him play.” ... On July 13, Lewis signs a five-year deal with a $1.3 million bonus in time to start training camp. ... On Aug. 3, Lewis records a sack in the Ravens' preseason debut, Baltimore's first NFL home game in 13 years. ... On Sept.1, Lewis starts the regular-season opener at Memorial Stadium and records a team-leading seven tackles along with his first career interception in a 19-14 win over Oakland Raiders. Lewis is named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. ... He appears in 14 games (13 starts) and leads the 4-12 team with 142 tackles. He's named to USA Today's all-rookie team.


Lewis enters his second season as the leader of the defense, intent on establishing himself in the NFL elite. “I'm still being myself, but it's different being in this position as the leader of the linebackers,” he says before the start of camp. ... On July 29, Lewis is flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center with a possible neck injury after a training-camp collision. He is deemed to have no spinal-cord or nerve damage. ... On Sept.14, he records a franchise-record and career-high 25 tackles in a road win over the New York Giants. ... Lewis leads the league with 210 tackles (163 solo), is selected as first alternate to the Pro Bowl and is named second-team All-NFL by the Associated Press.


At age 23, Lewis enters his third season as one of most respected linebackers in the league. “I don't just want another Pro Bowl,” he says. “I want to be Defensive Player of the Year this year. Or how about Player of the Year? My concern is about being the best middle linebacker. When Ray Lewis is done playing, I want people to say, ‘That guy was the best.'” ... On Nov. 19, Lewis signs a four-year, $26 million contract extension that makes him the league's highest-paid middle linebacker. ... Lewis misses almost three full games with a dislocated left elbow but still leads the Ravens in tackles with 154. ... He's selected to the Pro Bowl.


Another season, another Pro Bowl for Lewis, who is now routinely described by other players as the best linebacker in the NFL. The Ravens win four of their last five games and emerge as a potential up-and-comer under first-year coach Brian Billick. ... Within days of taking the job in January, Billick challenges Lewis to push beyond individual excellence and lead the team to the Super Bowl. ... Lewis records 14 tackles, a sack and a 60-yard interception return in the season-opening loss to the St. Louis Rams. ... Lewis starts all 16 games and finishes with a league-high 198 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. ... He's named first-team All-NFL by the AP and Sporting News.


In a stunning turn of events, Lewis is charged with first-degree murder after two men were stabbed to death outside an Atlanta nightclub following a night of Super Bowl parties. Lewis ultimately pleads guilty to obstruction of justice and returns to author his signature on-field season as the leader of a historically great defense. ... On Feb. 1, Lewis appears in an Atlanta courtroom and is denied bail after being charged in the deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. ... On Feb. 15, Lewis is freed on $1million bond and returns to Baltimore, where he declares that he's innocent but “very sorry about the tragedy that happened in Atlanta.” ... On June 5, after two weeks of trial, Lewis is cleared of murder charges, pleads to a misdemeanor obstruction charge and agrees to testify against two former co-defendants. ... Team owner Art Modell says he feels vindication and relief for Lewis, adding that he “never had any qualms about his innocence.” ... “This is done,” Lewis says in his first public remarks after the trial. “This is a chapter that needs to be closed.” ... On Sept. 3, the Ravens shut out the Pittsburgh Steelers in Lewis' return to the field. ... Facing boos at most road games, Lewis records 187 tackles for a defense that sets a 16-game record for fewest points allowed. ... He's named NFL Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Pro by the AP and Sporting News.


Lewis completes a season of remarkable swings by leading the Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV against the Giants. ... Lewis records 44 tackles in four playoff games as the Ravens' defense allows only one touchdown. ... On Jan. 28, Lewis is named Super Bowl MVP after recording 11 tackles against the Giants. ... “The thing is, the man upstairs tells you I never would take you through hell without bringing you through triumph,” Lewis says in the wake of the victory. ... Asked about Lewis' place among all-time great linebackers, general manager Ozzie Newsome says: “I think from now on, Ray has to be considered in that vein — one of the best ever and possibly the best to ever play the game.” ... Lewis again leads the team in tackles with 196 and makes the Pro Bowl as the Ravens attempt to defend their title. ... He's named first-team All-Pro by the AP and Sporting News.


Lewis suffers a difficult season, missing 11 games with a shoulder injury and finishing the year on injured reserve. ... On Jan. 20, the Ravens' title defense stalls in a 27-10 playoff loss at Pittsburgh. ... On Oct. 6, Lewis partially dislocates his left shoulder after jamming his arm into the turf in Cleveland. ... Lewis still finishes fifth on the 7-9 Ravens with 85 tackles. ... He vows to throw himself into offseason boot camp and return an even better player. “I'm going to make big plays look easy,” he says.


Lewis makes good on his promise to bounce back, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors for a second time as he leads the resurgent Ravens to a division title. ... ... Lewis sets career bests with 225 tackles and six interceptions. ... He's named first-team All-Pro by the AP and Sporting News.


Lewis records 200 tackles and is named first-team All-Pro by the AP and Sporting News. The Ravens finish 9-7 but miss the playoffs. ... Lewis misses the last game of the season with a broken wrist.