Kelly was ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ in the 2017 NFL Draft, a distinction given to the player selected with the final pick (No. 253) of the draft. But Kelly is anything but irrelevant, and he heads to an organization in the Denver Broncos that offers the opportunity for Kelly to see the field in short order once he’s healthy from knee and wrist injuries.
“It feels great,” Kelly said. “To finally have a chance to be in the NFL is a dream come true. Now it’s just time to go out and perform and show what I can do. (The Broncos) are going to get a guy who’s going to put in countless hours and is going to try to perform his craft at the best of his ability and just work. That’s the only way you can keep on getting better, and I’m just excited for this opportunity.”
Kelly was 14-8 over his two seasons at Ole Miss, accounting for 7,632 yards of total offense, or 346 yards a game. He had an efficiency rating of over 150 and threw for 50 touchdowns, while rushing for 832 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Yet nine quarterbacks were drafted ahead of Kelly, including three in the first round. The Chicago Bears traded up from No. 3 to No. 2 to take North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, the Kansas City Chiefs traded up to No. 10 for Patrick Mahomes, and the Houston Texas took Deshaun Watson at No. 12. Watson and Kelly are the only quarterbacks to beat Alabama in the last two seasons.
Far from irrelevant.
“It was just a big, long weekend because we didn’t really know where I was going to go,” Kelly said. “Thank God that the Broncos, Mr. (John) Elway and Mr. (Pat) Bowlen decided to take me in. That’s what it’s all about, having a relationship with those guys and them believing in me. After a long week, I’m glad to finally be a Denver Bronco.
“I had a sick feeling in my stomach the whole day when I wasn’t getting picked. I’ll remember that feeling for the rest of my life. I’m going to go out there and perform to the best of my ability. I’ve got a great team around me that’s going to make me look really good. I know those coaches are excited to get their hands on me, and I’m going to learn as much as I can from the coaches (and) the quarterbacks that are there. I’m going to try to go out and do the best that I can do and hopefully it can pay off. Every day I’ll remember that feeling. I’m going to keep on working, and that’s going to fuel my fire.”
Kelly could very well redshirt as a rookie. He suffered a season-ending ACL injury in his final game as a Rebel in November, and a wrist injury in the draft process resurfaced at Ole Miss Pro Day in April.
Kelly said he should be cleared within the next two months. He’ll head to camp with the Broncos May 11 — June 19, followed by training camp in late-July. He’ll take mental reps while he waits to get healthy.
“He let me know that he’s really proud to call me one of his players now,” Kelly said of his conversations with Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback for the franchise who now acts as general manager. “He wants me to come in, get healthy and then compete for a job. That’s what it is in the NFL — the best player’s going to play. He’s given me the opportunity to come in, prove myself and help the team out in any way possible.
“I think my legs are doing well. They feel really healthy. I’ve just got to get this wrist back to 100 percent without the cast. I think it’ll be within a couple of weeks; I should be good to go soon. I can’t wait to get out there and get back to work.”
Kelly said the wrist injury arose while doing extra pull-ups the week before Ole Miss Pro Day. His throwing session in front of some 50 scouts at the Manning Center was cut short when he felt further pain. Though he wanted to finish, he couldn’t grip a ball.
But he’s now an NFL quarterback anyway. Kelly, once he’s right, will compete with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch for starting duties.
“I can’t wait. This is what I’ve been working my whole life for,” Kelly said. “It feels real, but it’s almost surreal. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was born. As a little kid 2, 3-years-old going to Bills games and being around those guys, those guys were superstars to me. Being around them and being able to shake their hand, I was in awe. I still remember when (former Bills quarterback) J.P. Losman threw my brother over his shoulder and ran into the weight room and told him to start doing a workout. That right there, it just opens your eyes so much. Now it’s real. You’re going to put on an NFL team’s helmet. What more better than the Denver Broncos?”
Kelly said even though Ole Miss is behind him, he’ll always be a Rebel.
“What made it so special were the people that were there,” he said. “From the players to the coaches to the fan base, it was just special, from the first time I stepped on campus since every time I’ve been back since graduating. I’ll definitely be a fan until I die. I’m definitely going to come back as much as I can. I’ll definitely be watching on Saturdays.”
Ole Miss was 5-7 last season and is still dealing with lingering NCAA issues. The program self-imposed a one-year bowl ban for the 2017 season, but despite it all, Kelly believes the future is bright, especially with sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson stepping in.
Patterson, a former five-star prospect who was ranked the No. 1 overall quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class, started the final three games of the season once Kelly went down. He was 1-2.
“I think they have some great players,” Kelly said. “Talking to the coach, he has a great scheme going. I think Shea’s ready to take that next step and be that big-time leader that they’re looking for. What better way to do it than with an experienced offensive line and some great wide receivers around him? And getting Jordan (Wilkins) back, I think that’ll definitely help him, and that defense, it looked like they were rolling and flying around with the new defensive coordinator.”