Jamal Lewis has only been wearing a Cleveland Browns jersey for two seasons. But the bruising 245-pound running back put together back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons in 2007 and 2008, something a Cleveland back had not done in over 30 years.
As the 2009 season approaches, Lewis hopes to continue the string of 1,000 yard seasons and then some. While Lewis compiled just over 1,000 yards in 2008 (1,002), his average per carry was below his norm and Cleveland struggled to a disappointing 4-12 record.
What is the norm for Lewis? Before arriving in Cleveland in 2007, Lewis spent seven years as the lead back for the Baltimore Ravens, pounding out over 1,000 yards every year but one, including over 1,300 yards in 2000, 2002 and 2003.
In 2003, Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards. That ranks second best in NFL history behind 2,105 total yards that Eric Dickerson rushed for in 1984. That 2003 campaign included a game when Lewis ran for 295 yards. That was the NFL record until 2007 when Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson ran for 296 yards in one game. Ironically, Lewis was playing for Baltimore when he ran for 295 yards and the opponent was Cleveland.
Lewis also exceeded 1,300 yards in his first season with the Browns in 2007. But he was slowed by an ankle injury in 2008. Injuries to his lead fullback Lawrence Vickers and members of the offensive line made matters worse.
So even though Lewis is entering his 10th NFL season, he is aiming to exceed his 2008 output. Top priority is helping the Browns produce a winning record. But Lewis is also chasing history.
Entering the 2009 season, Lewis ranks 24th all-time among NFL running backs. He has amassed 10,107 yards. Another 1,000 yard season in 2009 would move him over 11,000 career yards and into the top 20 all-time.
Lewis should easily surpass Ottis Anderson, Eddie George and Tiki Barber on the all-time list. He only needs about 350 yards to do that. That gives him a shot at the top 20.
Currently at number 20 on the all-time rushing list is Ricky Watters with 10,643 yards. The next spot, number 19, is owned by Warrick Dunn, who has 10,967 yards and is still hoping to sign with a team and play in 2009.
OJ Simpson ranks 18th on the all-time rushing list with 11,236 yards.
While skeptics point out Lewis is entering his 10th season and has taken a lot of pounding, 15 of the top 25 running backs in NFL history played 11 or more seasons.
Plus, Lewis missed the 2001 season with a knee injury. So he may be entering his 10th season but his body has only endured eight NFL seasons, not nine.
It is not inconceivable that Lewis could play two more years. If he does, he may even have a shot at reaching the yardage total of former Brown great Jim Brown, who rushed for 12,312 yards in nine seasons before retiring in 1965. Jim Brown ranks 8th all-time among NFL rushing leaders.
But more important to Lewis than reaching the individual records is helping Cleveland compete for a title in the AFC North. Especially in 2009 when the Browns want to prove they are a much better team than last year’s team which managed only four wins.