• Stats: Timed at 4.55 in the 40 at The Opening Regional in Dallas.
• Assets: Tremendous length with a very high ceiling and tons of untapped potential. Shows four-to-five star closing speed coming off blocks. Outstanding finishing skills when he gets within range of the quarterback. Most effective working out of a four-point stance, which lends itself to some inside-outside versatility.
Seems to have a very natural strength because he’s yet to fill out his frame. Consistently holds the point of attack while carving out a wide patch of land. Blockers bounce off of him. Does not over-commit on the run, staying square to the ball carrier or a quarterback trying to elude him.
Shows the ability to go from getting off a block to closing the deal on ball carriers. Athletic enough to be a threat as a pass-receiving tight end. Will run away from people when he gets a head of steam. Runs like a thoroughbred.
• Room for improvement: Level of competition is a concern. Many of his top highlights are a result of being completely unblocked. Will be more effective when he fine-tunes his technique, beginning with a more effective three-point stance coming off the edge. Raw versus top-level competition, although he’s measured up well in camp settings.
• Top offers: Notre Dame. ACC: Clemson, Florida State, Miami. Big Ten: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin; SEC: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas A&M; Big 12: Baylor, Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech; Pac 12: Arizona State, Oregon.
• Early line: Following a strong performance at The Opening Regional in Dallas, Kelly’s offer list has nearly quadrupled, which was a contributing factor to his decision to de-commit from Kansas State this spring.
Kelly now anticipates making the rounds during the summer to shop his wares. He hopes to narrow his list to 5-to-8 by the start of the football season this fall with a planned announcement at the U.S. Army All-American game in January.
One of his many stops this summer will be Notre Dame – scheduled for June 10 – as defensive line coach Keith Gilmore has begun to pursue Kelly.
“I actually have built a closer relationship with (Notre Dame),” said Kelly to Irish Illustrated’s Jake Brown. “Coach Gilmore is from Detroit, just like my dad is. We’ve got a lot of family up there too. We’ve got a closer relationship.
“I just want to see where the graduation rate is and how comfortable I am at the school. Then how I get along with the coaches and players, if I’ll have a chance to compete as a freshman, and just (how much of) a chance (I have) to develop as a person and a player.”
Kelly has established a very ambitious travel itinerary for the summer. He’s mentioned as many as 20 unofficial visits, including – in addition to Notre Dame -- Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Michigan, Michigan State, Clemson, Miami, Alabama and Mississippi.
Regarding the fact that Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma program just put second-, third- and fourth-rounders from the state of Kansas in the NFL, Kelly said: “That shows you what you can do with kids from Kansas. We don’t get a lot of respect, but we know how to play.”
Kelly and his family visited Missouri the second weekend of May, indicating that the Tigers “definitely moved up.” Added Kelly: “It was kind of eye-popping. I didn’t really expect how nice the facilities are.”
The fact that Wisconsin wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore is Wichita has caught Kelly’s eye.
Needless to say, Kelly is wide open in terms of his final destination.
• ND’s 2016 defensive end recruiting: Early involvement with Josh King (Darien, Ill.) and Auston Robertson (Fort Wayne, Ind.) looked promising, but Michigan State and others have pulled even or ahead of the Irish. The Irish then received a verbal commitment from promising off-the-edge rush man Julian Okwara (Charlotte, N.C.), which was a boost, but things have flat-lined since then.
Notre Dame’s best shot at a four-star defensive end up to this point has been Khalid Kareem (Farmington Hills, Mich.), who seems to value the importance of a Notre Dame degree. Still, he’s a bit of a longshot for the Irish. Recent communication with four-star Patrick Bethel (Vero Beach, Fla.) and three-star Tomon Fox (Swanee, Ga.) has been encouraging.
• ND’s 2016 defensive end/line depth chart: By 2016, Sheldon Day and Romeo Okwara will be gone and Isaac Rochell will be in his final year of eligibility. If Jarron Jones chooses to stick around for five years, he’ll be in his last year at Notre Dame in ’16, otherwise he’ll be the third defensive lineman to leave after the ’15 season.
The changing of the guard will be well on its way with juniors Andrew Trumbetti, Grant Blankenship and Daniel Cage at the halfway point of their careers. As a red-shirt senior, Jacob Matuska will be down to two years. Players who preserved a year of eligibility in ’14 will include Jonathan Bonner, Jhonny Williams and Pete Mokwuah. Odds are Brandon Tiassum, Elijah Taylor and Micah Dew-Treadway will have preserved a year of eligibility in ’15.
• Summary: One of the great things about camp settings is they can reveal the skill set of a promising football player, particularly one with length, athleticism and explosiveness. That’s exactly what has happened with Xavier Kelly, who needed to compete against high-level competition outside of Kansas to earn the respect that his game deserves.
Kelly’s game as a junior for East High School in Wichita warranted attention before his camp stops. Regardless of the level of competition, Kelly has unmistakable traits that should translate well to the next level. He’ll need a lot of fine-tuning technique-wise, but the upside for this young man is incredibly high. Give him a couple years to develop his body and his pass rush moves and the winner of this wide-open race should benefit greatly.
Kelly is a good fit for Notre Dame in that the Irish have had no choice but to expand their recruiting horizons at defensive end, often pursuing those with raw talent and using all five years to maximize the skill set. Yet this time, the Irish aren’t going to sneak up on anybody now that the cat is out of the bag with Kelly.
Credit to Kelly for having the foresight to back away from his Kansas State commitment, regroup, reevaluate the landscape and entertain offers from an expanding list of suitors. Kelly has gone from less than double-digit offers to about 30 in short order.
It’s way too wide open at this stage for Kelly to predict a winner, but the Irish have put themselves in the running. With an expected commitment in January at the U.S. Army All-American Game, there’s a whole bunch of recruiting to be done with Kelly before this one is settled. Considering how difficult it is for Notre Dame to land top-rated defensive ends, the fight for this four-star prospect is worth waging to the bitter end.