April 26, 2017

Highlighted Year: Mel Gray, 1987

Running Back/Kick Returner, New Orleans Saints

Age: 26
4th season in pro football, 2nd in NFL & with Saints
College: Purdue
Height: 5’9”   Weight: 166

As a Purdue running back Gray rushed for 1765 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 53 passes for another 437 yards and a TD. Chosen by the Chicago Blitz in the seventh round of the 1984 USFL draft, Gray alternated with Kevin Nelson and Kevin Mack and ran for 625 yards on 133 attempts as a rookie (4.7 avg.),added 27 pass receptions for another 288 yards (10.7 avg.), and returned 20 kickoffs for a 16.6-yard average.   Gray scored the winning TD in the third overtime period in a playoff game against the Michigan Panthers and sufferered a broken arm on the play. He followed up with 526 rushing yards in 1985 along with 20 catches for 101 yards and an 18.5 average on 11 kickoff returns. With the demise of the USFL, where he compiled1151 yards on 258 carries (4.5 avg.), 389 yards on 47 pass receptions, and a 17.3-yard average on 31 kickoff returns, he moved on to the Saints, who chose him in the second round of the 1984 NFL supplemental draft.   Used almost exclusively as a kick returner, Gray averaged 27.9 yards on 31 kickoff returns in 1986 that included a touchdown.

1987 Season Summary
Appeared in 12 of 15 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 30 [6]
Yards – 636 [6]
Most yards, game – 108 (on 5 ret.) vs. Cleveland 9/13
Average per return – 21.2 [16]
TDs – 0
Longest return – 43 yards

Punt Returns
Returns – 24 [11, tied with Scott Schwedes, Bobby Futrell & Kenny Johnson]
Yards – 352 [7]
Most yards, game – 130 (on 2 ret.) vs. Tampa Bay 12/6
Average per return – 14.7 [1]
TDs – 0
Longest return – 80 yards

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 6        
Yards – 30
Average gain – 5.0
TDs – 0

Attempts – 8
Yards – 37
Average gain – 4.6
TDs – 1

TDs – 1
Points – 6

Postseason: 1 G (NFC Wild Card playoff vs. Minnesota)
Kickoff returns – 1
Kickoff return yds. – 16
Kickoff return TDs – 0

Punt returns – 1
Punt return yds. – 0
Punt return TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: PFWA, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News
1st team All-NFC: Pro Football Weekly

Saints went 12-3 to finish second in the NFC West in thestrike-shortened season (three games were played with replacement players) to finish second in the NFC West and qualified for the postseason as a wild card. Lost AFC Wild Card playoff to Minnesota Vikings (44-10).

Gray spent one more season with New Orleans before signing with the Detroit Lions in 1989. He continued to excel as a kick returner leading the NFL with a 15.4-yard punt return average and 25.8-yard kickoff return average in1991 and a 28.4-yard kickoff return average in 1994. He moved on to the Houston Oilers in 1995 and split his last season in 1997 between the Oilers and Philadelphia Eagles.Overall in the NFL, Gray returned 421 kickoffs for an average of 24.3 yards with six touchdowns and 252 punts for a 10.9-yard average and another three TDs. He received consensus first-team All-NFL recognition three times, at least some All-NFL honors following five other seasons and was named to four Pro Bowls.


Highlighted Years features players who were consensus first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970