Jacoby Jones is a household name around these parts. His name is forever etched into the history of the franchise.
A name you may not remember as vividly is Jermaine Lewis. He was a wide receiver but rarely contributed in the receiving game.
As a returner though...he was as if thrown from the hand of Zeus himself.
Drafted in the 5th round of the 1996 draft in the same year as Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, Jermaine was a short 5'7" receiver out of Maryland (the first of three Terrapins drafted by Baltimore).
Together they are the two best return men the Ravens have had. Let's examine their careers against each other using four main categories.
Jermaine Lewis scored eight return touchdowns in his career all during his six years with the Ravens. Seven of them were punt returns, one of which was in the 2001 AFC Divisional game at Pittsburgh, Baltimore's lone touchdown in that loss.
Lewis had two games with two punt return touchdowns. The first in 1997 against Seattle (then an AFC West team) which proved the decisive scores in a 31-24 Ravens victory. The other on Christmas Eve of the 2000 season against the Jets which also became the margin in a 34-20 victory to end the regular season.
The eighth return touchdown, a kick return, came in Super Bowl XXXV, driving a fatal stake into the New York Giants' heart. The Giants had just mounted their only score of the game on a kick return touchdown of their own. Less than 36 seconds later, Lewis was in their end zone. With him went the Ravens en route to their first Super Bowl.
Jacoby Jones, no stranger to return touchdowns, has nine in his career. Four came with Houston, leaving five with Baltimore.
Unlike Lewis, who produced mainly punt return TDs, Jones has more kickoff return TDs. As a Raven, his lone punt return TD was the only Ravens touchdown scored in a critical 13-10 victory at Pittsburgh. One of his four kick return TDs came in Super Bowl XLVII as the Ravens only second half touchdown against the 49ers.
Return Average as a Raven
As a punt returner, Jermaine Lewis finished with a return average of 11.8 in Baltimore. On kick returns, he produced an average of 22.7 yards.
Jacoby Jones currently has a better kick return average (30.1) than Lewis did as a Raven but not in punt return average (9.9). Of course, where one scores their touchdowns is a major driver of return average. Jones may yet receive another year to improve upon his averages in Baltimore.
Elevating his play in the clutch and adversity
Both players were, almost unquestionably, clutch players insofar as that is a thing.
Lewis's touchdown in the Super Bowl ended any semblance of New York's hopes. Looking to make a comeback at 17-7, the Giants instead immediately found themselves dead in the water at 24-7, a hopelessly insurmountable lead against that defense. The 36 second sequence in Super Bowl XXXV in which three return touchdowns were scoredis still remembered as one of the strangest events in Super Bowl history.
Perhaps even more notably, Jermaine's two touchdown day against New York in 2000 followed an event of his own personal suffering when his wife gave birth to a still born child. The moment was captured emotionally in the 2000 Ravens America's Game. Much like how Torrey Smith returned from a personal tragedy to play heroically in a game, so too did Jermaine Lewis 12 years earlier.
Jacoby Jones' special teams play in the clutch can scarcely be overstated. He made a gigantic play against Minnesota in 2013 in the final 90 seconds to give the Ravens a lead in one of the craziest games in NFL history. He saved the Ravens from the ignominy of losing to Byron Leftwich in 2012. His touchdown in Super Bowl XLVII certainly could not have come at a better time or in a better city for him.
Across the NFL historical landscape
For their careers, Jacoby Jones ranks 8th in NFL history in kickoff return average with 27.4. Jermaine Lewis 239th with 21.8.
In punt return average, however, Jermaine has the edge. He rates 17th in all-time with 11.1. Jacoby Jones is 73rd with 10.1.
Lewis is tied for 8th all-time in punt return touchdowns. In a strange coincidence, Jacoby Jones is also tied for 8th all-time in kick return touchdowns.
Lewis' longest return touchdown is an 89 yard punt return. Jacoby Jones has two return touchdowns of 108 yards, the only NFL player with more than one (and the Ravens are the only NFL team with at least two players with return touchdowns of that distance [Ed Reed]).
Rather than try to decide who was better, it seems obvious but fair to say that Jermaine Lewis was an elite punt returner while Jones has the mantle of elite kickoff returner. Both ran like the wind and struck like lightning.
It almost seems unbelievable that Ray Lewis played long enough to win Super Bowls with both.
Who feels like the best all around returner in franchise history to you?
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