Listed at 6-foot-2 ½, 220 pounds, Clovis West High School (Fresno, Calif.) standout Caleb Kelly plays a game longer and stronger than his measurables indicate.
He is the quintessential picture of an outside (Sam) linebacker on the collegiate level, defending wide swaths of land on a football field. He’s as comfortable chasing a slot receiver downfield as he is coming off the edge and getting after a quarterback.
Kelly has a natural competitive nature with a ferocious desire to get to the football. He uses his large hands as weapons against blockers, and if a blocker sets himself as an impediment between Kelly and the ball carrier, Kelly will simply try to burrow/muscle his way through the blocker to get to the football.
What allows Kelly to play in space as well as he does is a long, powerful running stride that swallows up land. He truly has the physical skills to defend the entire width of the field while also possessing the athleticism to chase receivers downfield with the ability to zig with a receiver’s zag.
And yet what makes Kelly a legitimate five star-ish talent is the ideal tools to play the outside linebacker position. His length (he plays much longer than 6-foot-2 ½) and strength allow him to effectively defend his side of the football field up to the sideline. Coming off the edge as a pass rusher has to be an intimidating sight for prep offensive tackles because Kelly really strides out and presents the clear image of imminent danger to the quarterback.
While Kelly certainly has the ability to chase receivers downfield, the best use of a long, strong athlete such as this is closer to the line of scrimmage, preferably, in a standup position on the edge where quarterbacks/offensive lines are forced to account for him in their protections.
Some additional qualities that make him Scout’s No. 2 outside linebacker prospect are his long arms, big hands (which allow him to effortlessly snag passes out of the air), his ability to make contact at full speed, a sturdy, wide tackling base, outstanding closing speed with those long strides out of a backpedal and the general ferocious nature to his game.
Some have compared him to Jaylon Smith, which is fair because Smith left high school after the 2012 season also representing the quintessential picture of an outside linebacker. But they’re a little different in style. Smith was/is faster, sleeker and more athletic chasing the football than Kelly, but Kelly is filled out a bit more and stronger at comparative stages of their careers. (Kelly uses his physicality to assist him defending the pass whereas Smith did it more with athleticism.)
THE RECRUITING PROCESS
Caleb Kelly will be on the campus of Notre Dame Friday evening when the Irish celebrate their 10-2 regular season at ECHOES ’15.
Kelly’s visit is his fourth official trip following stops at Michigan, Oklahoma and Oregon with Texas or Alabama potentially in line for a fifth. Many consider Oklahoma and their previous recruiting success in Fresno – plus their spot in the college football playoffs – to give the edge to the Sooners. Kelly has made two trips to Ann Arbor.
But tonight – with recent commitment Daelin Hayes and Butkus Award winner Jaylon Smith on hand – Kelly will be surrounded by reasons to look favorably upon the Irish.
With the possibility of Greer Martini moving back to inside linebacker following the departure of Joe Schmidt, and the youth at Sam linebacker (Josh Barajas, Asmar Bilal) behind starter James Onwualu, Kelly would have an opportunity to make an early impact for the Irish, a la Hayes, as an edge rusher and/or perhaps a third-down pass defender.