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Vols' Lewis could prove top back

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Posted: Wednesday April 12, 2000 03:25 PM

  Jamal Lewis Despite a late push for Thomas Jones, Tennessee's Jamal Lewis is still one of the top running backs in the NFL Draft. Elsa Hasch/Allsport

By Duane Cross,

ATLANTA ( -- NFL player personnel directors with visions of becoming a general manager should forego the Thomas Jones hype. Jamal Lewis could validate your ticket to the corner office before Jones even gets out of the garage.

An almost forgotten commodity in the University of Tennessee arsenal for most of the 1999 season, Lewis has the potential to be a franchise-type running back. He's big (6-foot, 240 pounds), can run with the wind (4.45 seconds in the 40-yard run) and is hungry to prove his worth -- to the teams that undoubtedly will overlook him.

After a remarkable freshman season, Lewis suffered a major knee injury early in the 1998 season. He returned for the Vols' '99 season opener and looked tentative -- despite 159 yards and three touchdowns. Lewis scored five times through the first two games of last season, but just twice more in the final eight regular-season games. He finished with just three 100-yard rushing games.

However, Lewis' drop in production was largely due to Tennessee changing its focus from a grind-it-out attack to chuck-and-duck.

Lewis is the No. 2 running back on CNNSI's draft board (behind Jones). And still Lewis is underrated. Some "draftniks" obviously believe Lewis has not fully recovered from his knee injury. Then explain this: With a reconstructed knee, Lewis' sprint time (4.45) still tops Jones (4..5), Shaun Alexander (4.63), Ron Dayne (4.65) and J.R. Redmond (4.5).

Dayne has the Heisman. Alexander, Jones and Redmond have become the "sexy" names for in-the-know fans to repeat. In the meantime, Lewis lurks in the shadows, ready to begin an NFL career worthy of first-round consideration.

The bottom line: Lewis is not a project or a prospect with potential. He is a ticket to the next level -- for either a team or a player personnel director with his eye on redecorating the GM's office.

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