Leroy Kelly – Running Back
Whether it's in sports or otherwise, it's difficult to follow a legend. But Leroy Kelly did it – and well – in a 10-year career that lasted from 1964 to 1973. When Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown retired just before the start of training camp in 1966, the Browns were understandably concerned about what they were going to do at running back. But Brown told members of Browns management not to worry, for they already had their replacement on the roster in Kelly. An eighth-round pick in the 1964 NFL Draft out of tiny Morgan State, Kelly had rushed just 43 times for 151 yards in his first two seasons, averaging3.5 yards a carry with no touchdowns. Where he had made his mark, though, was as a returner. He had averaged 24.3 yards per kickoff return in 1964, and 25.9 in 1965. As a punt returner, he was even better, averaging 19 yards per attempt with a TD the first year, and 15.6 yards and two scores, both tops in the NFL, the following season. As it turned out, Brown was not only a great player, but he also had a keen eye for talent. Kelly took immediate advantage of the opportunity, rushing for 1,141 yards, second-best in the NFL, in 1966 while leading the league in average yards per attempt (5.5) and TD runs (15). The following year, he topped the NFL in yards (1,205), average (5.1) and scores (11), and in 1968 went over 1,000 yards for the third straight time with a league-leading – and career-best – 1,239 and paced the NFL, too, with 16 TDs. He also turned into a good receiver as well. After catching just nine passes for 122 yards and no TDs in his first two seasons, he had 74 receptions for 945 yards and seven scores from 1966-68. Although he never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season again, he did go over 800 yards three times in the four-year span from 1969-72 and finished his career with 7.274 yards, a 4.2 average and 74 TDs, second only in team history to Brown's 106. He also caught 190 passes for 2,281 yards (12.0) and 13 scores. The 90 career TDs including rushing, receiving and returning gave him 540 points, putting him in sixth in the club in scoring. Kelly, who was named All-NFL five times and made six trips to the Pro Bowl, had some of his best games late in the year when the Browns were making a stretch run. With Kelly helping to lead the way, the Browns made the playoffs in six of his first seven seasons on the team, and eight times overall, advancing to four NFL Championship Games with one victory – in his rookie year. When Kelly retired after the 1973 seasons, his successor also had to follow a legend.
– Steve King