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Mike Preston: Ravens RB Jamal Lewis deserves more Hall of Fame support | COMMENTARY

Whenever Pro Football Hall of Fame running backs are mentioned, the dominance of Jim Brown or the finesse and elusiveness of Gale Sayers are the first things that come to mind.

O.J. Simpson had those crazy swivel hips, and Walter Payton was the total package, a rare combination of all the coveted skills.

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Former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis had a great career, but didn’t seem to fit into that class.

At least, until now.

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If Lewis doesn’t get into the Hall of Fame, he should at least make the list of 15 finalists after failing to make the semifinal group of 25 the past two years.

Lewis, who played in Baltimore from 2000 through 2006, is one of my favorite Ravens. Not only was he admired for his rugged playing style on the field, but his demeanor off it. Lewis said what he meant and meant what he said, and never cared about what anyone else thought.

Maybe his greatness was undervalued because of his style. There was no elegance or smoothness to his game, which current Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has. The 5-foot-11, 245-pound Lewis was a brutal, physical runner. Once he turned the corner and got his shoulder pads squared, it was like a runaway 18-wheeler barreling downhill.

“He had a little Earl Campbell to him, but with more speed,” former Ravens general manager and Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome said of Lewis in comparison to the Houston Oilers star.

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“Now, he had some of those ugly runs, I guess you could say that,” Newsome added, laughing.

The convincing argument in favor of Lewis’ possible Hall of Fame induction was written recently by Rick Gosselin, who has covered the NFL for 48 years and been a Hall of Fame voter for 25 years. Gosselin is one of the league’s most respected writers and is usually the smartest guy in the room, even though he never shows it.

He points out that Lewis is one of only 31 running backs in league history to rush for 10,000 yards, ranking No. 25 all-time with 10,607 during his nine-year career. He added that Lewis ran for 295 yards in a 2003 game against Cleveland, the second-best rushing performance in NFL history. Adrian Peterson holds the record with 296, just one more yard than Lewis.

Lewis rushed for 200 yards in a game three times, tied with Terrell Davis and Eric Dickerson and one fewer than Jim Brown, Campbell, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson. All are Hall of Famers.

Lewis posted 36 career 100-yard games, two fewer than Marshall Faulk, who played three more seasons, and more than John Riggins, who played five more seasons, and Marcus Allen, who played seven more seasons.

And here’s another comparison: Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards on 387 carries in 2003; only seven other running backs are in that elite 2,000-yard group.

“They talk about [wide receiver] Randy Moss, how he could strike from any part of field,” said Newsome, the former Browns star who was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1999. “Jamal could do that, on any carry, he could take it the distance. Always a threat. Defenses knew if we don’t get this guy, he is going to take it to the house. There are very few guys you can say that about. Jamal was so big, so big and so powerful, and he could get to his top speed in a hurry.”

A lot of Hall of Fame running backs had great quarterbacks. Emmitt Smith had Troy Aikman. Davis had John Elway. Edgerrin James shared a backfield with Peyton Manning, and Thurman Thomas played with Jim Kelly.

Lewis might as well have had Joe Palooka as his starting quarterback. He had six in nine years, including Trent Dilfer, Jeff Blake, Kyle Boller and Derek Anderson. Lewis still rushed for more than 1,000 yards in seven of those seasons.

And it’s not as if opposing defenses didn’t know he was going to get the ball. In Baltimore, it was the great Lewis Connection: linebacker Ray Lewis on defense and Jamal Lewis on offense. Jamal Lewis was basically the entire Ravens offense as a rookie in 2000, rushing for 1,364 yards to help the team win its first Super Bowl.

“Hopefully, this will get people’s attention,” Newsome said. “If you look at his career and compare to those who have gotten in the Hall the last five years, Jamal rates some serious discussion. Jamal was our bell cow. Now everybody is playing with two, sometimes three backs, but Jamal was going to be on the field 85 to 90 percent of the time. He was going to get his 25 to 30 carries, and those carries were inside the hashes.”

The resume is impressive. Lewis was named to the NFL All-Decade team along with James and Tomlinson, both Hall of Famers. He was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and rushing leader in 2003.

“Jamal Lewis, without a doubt, deserves consideration for the Hall of Fame,” said former Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who was inducted into the Hall in 2013. “He was definitely the main engine in our offense for years. He had the 2,000-yard season and Pro Bowls, but didn’t have the luxury of playing with great quarterbacks to take the pressure off of him in the running game.

“The numbers speak for themselves. If people are really examining them, than I think he deserves serious consideration for the Hall. I am a little biased, but I think he deserves to be in there.”

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