So much of an NFL career is dictated by where it all starts.
Which is why Terrell Davis is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Jamal Lewis can’t get any traction from Canton for his career.
Davis was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 1995 and became a walk-in starter, rushing for 1,000 yards in each of his first four seasons. His Broncos went to the playoffs three times, winning two AFC West crowns and two Lombardi Trophies.
Then Davis was done. He suffered a knee injury a month into his fifth season and was never the same player. He played only 13 more games over the next two years before retiring. In 2011, his 7,607 career rushing yards and 60 touchdowns were rewarded with a bust in Canton.
Lewis was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2000 and became a walk-in starter on a team that won a Super Bowl. He rushed for 1,364 yards that season, then missed the 2001 season with a training camp knee injury. But he returned better than ever, rushing for 1,327 yards in 2002 and 2,066 in 2003.
Like Davis, Lewis rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his first four seasons. Like Davis, he became a member of the 2,000-yard club – a select fraternity of only seven players, including Hall of Famers O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Barry Sanders. Lewis won one rushing title. Davis won two. Lewis won one Super Bowl ring. Davis won two.
But there was one big difference in their careers. Davis played with a Hall of Fame quarterback – John Elway. Lewis played with a different quarterback in each of his first three seasons and there will not a bust awaiting any of them in Canton – Trent Dilfer, Jeff Blake and Kyle Boller. Had not Lewis suffered that knee injury in his second year, it would have been four quarterbacks (Elvis Grbac) in his first four years.
So the four 1,000-yard seasons that represented Davis’ Hall of Fame candidacy were all played with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in his huddle. Lewis played nine NFL seasons with six different starting quarterbacks. He rushed for 1,000 yards seven times – two taking the handoffs from Kyle Boller, two from Derek Anderson and once apiece from Trent Dilfer, Jeff Blake and Steve McNair.
Even though Lewis wore the bull’s eye every Sunday for every defense, he became one of only 31 backs in NFL history to rush for 10,000 career yards. He ranks 25th with 10,607. Lewis has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for two years now but hasn’t shown up among the 25 semifinalists yet, much less the 15 finalists. His career deserves a Hall of Fame discussion.
Lewis ran for 295 yards in a 2003 game against Cleveland, the second-best rushing performance in NFL history. Adrian Peterson holds the single-game record by one extra yard. Lewis rushed for 200 yards three times in his career. That’s as many as Davis and Eric Dickerson and one fewer than Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Lewis posted 36 career 100-yard games, two fewer than Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, who played three more seasons. His 36 100s are more than Hall of Famer John Riggins, who played five more seasons, and Marcus Allen, who played seven more seasons.
Lewis is in the company of Hall of Famers in the record book but not in Canton. His career is deserving of that discussion.