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Leroy Kelly learned from Jim Brown, became one of NFL’s most feared ball carriers

Leroy Kelly, in a 10-year tenure with the Cleveland Browns from 1964 through 1973, established himself as one of the most feared ball carriers in the history of the National Football League.

Overall, he rushed for 7,274 yards and ranked among the top 20 all-time rushers until midway through 1993 season. He added 2,281 yards on 190 pass receptions and excelled as a punt and kickoff return specialist, particularly in his early years in the NFL. His combined net yards total of 12,330 on rushes, receptions and returns ranks him among the best ever.

Kelly was an eighth-round pick of the Browns in the 1964 draft after a fine four-year career at Morgan State. For his first two years, he was an understudy to Jim Brown, the most prolific ground-gainer in history up to that time. When Brown retired just before the 1966 campaign, Kelly filled the void in a manner seldom seen in pro football circles.

For the next three years, he rushed for 1,000 yards, winning All-NFL honors each year and being selected as a starter in three straight Pro Bowls. Kelly also played in three other Pro Bowls following the 1969, 1970 and 1971 seasons, and earned first-team All-NFL in 1969 and 1971.

During his career, he won four individual statistical championships, including NFL rushing titles in 1967 and 1968. In 1965, he won the NFL punt return title, an honor he repeated in the AFC in 1971. Noted as an exceptionally fine runner on muddy fields, the 6-0, 202-pound Kelly favored the famed Browns trap play up the middle for his major yardage ventures but he was equally devastating on sweeps or as a receiver. His quick-starting ability, along with a sense of balance and knack of evading direct hits by tacklers, kept him relatively injury-free, missing only four games in 10 years and never more than one game per season.

Kelly finished his playing career in the World Football League playing for the Chicago Fire for one season. He decided to stay in the WFL this time as an offensive back and passing coach for the Philadelphia Bells.

The Browns legend was inducted into the Morgan State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1977 and then  honored at the highest level when he was Enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994. He was also inducted into the Browns Ring of Honor in 2010 and most recently the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

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