New sports franchises don't historically draft well their first year in the league. Think about the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995 when they selected offensive tackle Tony Boselli #2 overall. Ever heard of him? Since then the Jaguars have had 10 top-10 draft picks, but have only made the playoffs 6 times, with a postseason record of 5-6. The NBA's Charlotte Bobcats have experienced a similar fate since they drafted NBA bust Emeka Okafor in 2004.
The aforementioned examples prove that it is extremely hard for an expansion team to succeed at the professional level early on. The front office is faced with the difficult task of assembling a group of players who, competing together for the first time, will be able to play against experienced teams; oftentimes teams with established chemistry, leadership, and experience. Luckily, the Ravens did better than the Jaguars in their inaugural draft.
Art Modell picked up UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden with the Ravens first pick ever at #4 in the 1st round. Ogden has exceeded that value over the course of an impressive 11-year NFL career. He made the pro bowl every season he played, started 176 out of 177 games, and recovered 7 fumbles. He made the 2000s All-Decade Team, earned the Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor, and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame earlier this year. Ogden is a Raven legend.
The next pick in that draft left an even bigger mark than Ogden did. Ray Lewis was selected 26th overall as an inside linebacker out of the University of Miami. There were initial doubts about his size, and many scouts were hesitant about selecting Lewis in the 1st round. Kevin Hardy was considered the most valuable linebacker in that draft, which is why the Jaguars picked him at #2 overall. One wouldn't dare mention Kevin Hardy's name in the same breath as Ray Lewis today...
Lewis came into Baltimore with the same intensity, determination, and work ethic he has left Baltimore with. He earned his role as a vocal, energetic leader early on, motivating the defense on a regular basis. His fifth year in the league he helped lead what many consider to be the greatest defensive performance by a single team in NFL history. The Ravens set a single-season record for fewest points allowed at 165, fewest rushing yards allowed at 970, and had 4 shutouts in 2000.
Lewis would cap off an exceptional regular season with an exceptional post-season: he had 31 tackles, 2 interceptions, 9 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 touchdown to lead the Ravens to their first Super Bowl victory. He won defensive player of the year and Super Bowl MVP awards that season.
Lewis' legacy is too long to mention here, but he will undoubtedly join Ogden in Canton, Ohio. His personality was as loud as his play: 2,061 tackles, 41.5 sacks, and 31 interceptions, 13 pro bowls, and 2 Super Bowl rings over 16 years in the league.
The 1996 draft decided the Ravens' fate for years to come. It provided them with success and leadership and Ray Lewis' presence established the powerful defense the Ravens have now come to be associated with. In many ways, that 1st round was a perfect one for Baltimore.