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Harder to Replace—Ed Reed or Ray Lewis?

Interesting debate over at NFLN the other night…

The two defensive faces of the Ravens franchise – Ray Lewis and Ed Reed – are gone.

So which one is more difficult to replace?

Former New York Giants lineman Shawn O'Hara and analyst Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network debated the question as part of their 32 teams in 32 days segment.

O'Hara picked Reed:

"He hasn't missed a game in two years," he said. "When I think about Ed Reed I think about big plays. He always seemed to come up with a crucial interception. … This guy is a playmaker. I don't know how they replace him."

Baldinger took Lewis:

"I don't think you can replace Ray Lewis," he said. "It's not about numbers or stats, because Ray has all those. But from 1996 on, until last year's Super Bowl, there was one voice in that locker room in Baltimore. It didn't matter who the owner was, who the coaches were and the players that came and went, Ray Lewis was the leader of that football team. They don't have that voice anymore. I think he's the greatest leader that team has ever had or ever will have."

It's a tough question because you have to separate the metrics of physical contribution and emotional leadership, and factor in the 2012 states-of-the-art of both players' careers.

I guess if I could only keep one of these guys RIGHT NOW at their current states of health and age, it would have to be Ed Reed.

That's mainly because Reed is a few years younger than Lewis, and because Reed can still contribute at free safety, even if he is slowing down, because of his vast knowledge of the game, the league and the position.

Lewis can still be a great leader and technique coach for the linebackers. But as far as his overall influence on the outcome of a game, he's not capable of being a real difference-maker anymore. Reed still has those two or three magical game-winning plays left in him this coming season. But it will be for the Houston Texans, not the Ravens.

Speaking of guys who are difficult to replace… Ryan Mink of Ravens.com pointed me in the direction of ESPN.com's poll called  "Can't-lose" Players.'

ESPN's bloggers picked one player from every team around the league that they deemed "can't-lose" players.

For the Ravens, Jamison Hensley voted for wide receiver Torrey Smith.

"The Ravens can't afford to lose Smith to an injury, especially with Anquan Boldin gone," Hensley says. "Over the past two seasons, Smith has averaged 17.1 yards per reception and scored 15 touchdowns. The group of receivers who would replace him — Tandon Doss, David Reed, Deonte Thompson and Tommy Streeter — have 21 career receptions combined.

"Baltimore would go from a proven playmaker to a big question mark. The Ravens don't have to rely heavily on their wide receivers with tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson along with running back Ray Rice. And Jacoby Jones can stretch the field like Smith. But the Ravens don't have a reliable and consistent presence outside without Smith."