Ravens Rewind: Jamal Lewis

jamal lewis header

With the 2018 draft only a week removed and all eyes on the future of the team, I decided it was the perfect time to go against the grain to unveil my new series: Ravens Rewind. This series will look back on former Ravens, both iconic and forgettable, and will explore what the players meant to the team. The first entrant to the series will focus on former running back Jamal Lewis.

 

Overview

Jamal Lewis was an old-school running back by every definition. Listed at 5’11” 245 pounds, he was a physical presence and a dominant power back. While not exactly known for his speed, Lewis was incredibly strong, and could run over just about anyone in his way. Whether it be through throwing a powerful stiff arm or simply lowering his shoulder, Lewis often had a higher chance of putting a defender on their back than they did of him. But he wasn’t entirely one dimensional, and actually possessed more elusiveness than he’s normally credited for. Defenders had to respect his strength, which left them more vulnerable to the quick cuts he’d often employ in the open field. So whether it be through brute force or surprising shiftiness, Lewis put together a highlight reel of making defenders look silly while trying to stop him.

Picked #5 overall, he was a pivotal part in the Ravens’ Superbowl run in his rookie year. That squad will always be remembered for having one of the greatest defenses of all time, and rightfully so, but having Lewis on the field created at least a little bit of optimism on the Trent Dilfer led offense that was otherwise a complete trainwreck. After winning a Superbowl ring to start his career, Lewis suffered a terrible knee injury that forced him to miss his entire sophomore campaign and led to questions as to whether or not he’d be able to return to full strength. He returned in 2002 and put any doubts to rest, turning in a season that was almost statistically identical to his rookie effort. But it’d be his 4th season that truly cemented Lewis’ legacy as an all-time great.

2003 was Jamal’s best season, and is still one of the greatest seasons by any running back in NFL history. Not only did he set the single-game record for most rush yards (later broken by Adrian Peterson), he also put himself in second for single-season rush yards (again, later overtaken by Adrian Peterson). We’ll dive more into the stats below, but Lewis’ 2,066 rush yards showed an incredibly high ceiling, and earned him his first pro bowl and all-pro nods in the league.

After lighting the league on fire in 2003, Lewis turned in 3 more solid years for the team, but never reached close to the same level of production. You can point to his heavy workload, the fact that he was on a largely one-dimensional offense that couldn’t seem to field a competent QB, or both, but Lewis never managed to reach the level of success he had in his first 4 years in Baltimore ever again. He was eventually phased out for Willis McGahee and eventually Ray Rice, and finished his career with 2 and a half years as a starter in Cleveland. He retired after the 2009 season at the age of 30.

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Stats That Matter

Stats are for nerds, but when looking back on someone’s entire body of work, some can certainly help paint the picture. Through his first 4 seasons (excluding 2001, which was lost to injury) Lewis was on pace to be a first ballot hall of famer. Despite a heavy workload (including a ludicrous 413 touches in 2003) he remained reasonably consistent, and was arguably the face of the offense for 7 seasons. A combination of his lack of longevity and a surplus of competition at the position will likely keep him out of Canton, but he has a special place in Ravens history. Some of his most impressive stats include:

  • 1364 rush yards as a rookie
  • 2066 rush yards in 2003 (Then 2nd all time, 3rd all time now)
  • 295 rush yards in week 2 of 2003 (Then NFL record, 2nd all time now)
  • 7 seasons of 1000+ rush yards
  • 3 seasons of 9+ TDs
  • 20.4 touches per game (in seasons with at least 9 starts)
  • 62 career touchdowns
  • 10607 career rush yards

 

NFL Accolades

Lewis had a prolific NFL career that will, unfortunately, go largely un-noticed in hindsight by the other 31 franchises. If MVP wasn’t pretty much a QBs only award, Lewis would have had a strong argument in 2003, which would certainly bolster his name value. He did, however, receive the next-best reward that year when he was named Offensive Player of the Year. Some of his top accolades include:

  • 1x Superbowl champion (SB XXXV)
  • 1x Pro Bowl (2003)
  • 1x First-team All-Pro (2003)
  • 1x NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2003)
  • 1x NFL rushing yards leader (2003)
  • 2k yards club (2003)
  • NFL 2000’s All-decade team
  • Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor (2012)

 

Most Memorable Moment

Lewis has a highlight reel filled with great moments. Whether it be juking defenders out in the open field, stiff-arming cornerbacks to the turf, running through linebackers, or dragging half a team into the endzone with him, he was simply fun to watch. His most memorable “moment” however, has to be the entirety of his 295 yard performance against the Browns in 2003.

 

Where is he Now?

To be honest, I thought of the format for this series with multiple players in mind. I’m looking to keep the structure the same through multiple iterations while making small tweaks if needed as I go. That said, Jamal’s story doesn’t have a very happy ending to this point, but has enough notable events to not leave out entirely.

Less than 2 years after his retirement, Lewis filed for bankruptcy and was revealed to be multiple millions of dollars in debt. This led to, among dozens of other things, Lewis losing his superbowl ring as one of his assets. Financial problems continued to follow Lewis years later as well. Lewis was given a Superbowl XLVII ring by Steve Bisciotti, and later had to auction it off in 2015 due to financial difficulties. The ring was sold for $50,000.

Since then, Lewis has remained out of the public eye. He still does local autograph signings, and has seemingly stayed out of trouble for the last few years. There doesn’t appear to be any big plans pertaining to the team or the sport in Lewis’ future, but what he’s done for the team will not be soon forgotten. Just last week, 4th round draft pick Jaleel Scott mentioned Lewis as one of the reasons for the Ravens being his favorite team while growing up. The perception of the Ravens being a team with a strong running game and great play on defense stems directly from Jamal Lewis, who’s influence can still be felt more than a decade later.

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