Chad Kelly might be the most relevant Mr. Irrelevant in the history of the pick. Kelly was selected with the 253rd pick by the Denver Broncos — after Hall of Fame uncle Jim Kelly vouched for him in a conversation with GM John Elway.
Kelly is recovering from a torn ACL and lateral meniscus suffered last season, and also a wrist injury suffered leading up to his Pro Day performance. That's not the only reason Kelly wasn't taken until the last pick of the Draft.
Kelly epitomizes the forgiving nature of collegiate and pro sports when it comes to highly talented players. Conflicts with coaches, off-the-field arrests — major character concerns — have led to a tumultuous career for Kelly, but his talent has provided him second and third chances to redeem himself.
John Elway is giving him one last opportunity. As troubling as Kelly's off-the-field antics are, there's little doubting his talent on the grid-iron. To showcase what attracted the Broncos to Kelly, I'm going to break down a few of his plays against the Alabama Crimson Tide last year. The Ole Miss Rebels beat 'Bama the year before, but fell short in 2016.
Analyzing Kelly through the 'Bama prism is a great NFL litmus test. The 'Bama defense is as close to professional level of competition as Kelly would ever encounter in college. Multiple 'Bama defenders heard their names called on Draft Day.
How did Kelly do against this formidable group? Let's take a look.
'Bama is in their nickel sub-package, with four down linemen. Ole Miss in 11-personnel (get used to that). Backed up on in their own endzone, Kelly knows he has to be careful with the ball. Scanning the defense pre-snap, he sees a two-deep shell initially, but spots the free safety creeping down into the box to account for TE Evan Engram. This gives the receiver at the bottom of the screen — Quincy Adeboyejo — a one-on-one matchup. Kelly takes the snap from the gun, lets the route develop, climbs the pocket a step or two upon sensing pressure and unloads an accurate, deep ball down the left seam to the receiver’s back shoulder. Adeboyejo can’t haul it in, due to some solid coverage and the pass falls incomplete.
Analysis: In this play, we see Kelly’s ability to diagnose coverage pre-snap and sense pressure in the pocket. Most importantly, we see his arm strength and accuracy as a passer. That ball was put on the receiver's back (outside) shoulder. It was a play that highlights Kelly as an advanced passer.
'Bama again in the nickel. The Tide appear to be showing some threatening activity close to the line of scrimmage (top), but they’re simply accounting for the hats Ole Miss has on the left side. The receiver goes in motion on what appears to be a jet-sweep out of the pistol. Kelly will play-fake, and again he’s paying attention to the safety covering the right third of the field. Reading the sweep, the safety bites and barrels down into the box, leaving the receiver at the bottom of the screen in single coverage. The protection is good, giving Kelly the time he needs to make the throw. The receiver makes a great individual play, coming down with the contested catch for a big gain.
Analysis: When he recognizes single coverage, Kelly has no qualms with throwing the ball to his big-bodied receivers deep. Kelly is a remarkably accurate passer on deep balls. From these two plays, we see the gunslinger’s mentality in Kelly and as awesome as it can be — when it works — it’s also a double-edged sword.
Kelly’s fearlessness and confidence also get him into hot water at times. NFL coaches will have to work on his decision-making and how he processes the play, especially with regard to situational football. But, in the NFL, quarterbacks have to possess the confidence to unload like this and capitalize on similar situations. Kelly checks that box no problem.
Play 3 [Touchdown]
'Bama runs what looks like a dime personnel grouping (6 DBs), but I can’t be sure without the All-22 vantage. The Tide are trying to account for Ole Miss’ four receivers — two split left and two right. TE Evan Engram, whom Kelly helped establish as a first-round talent, is going to blow by his defender. Kelly fakes the toss, sucking the safety — once again — into the box, while Engram gets behind everyone. It’s a pitch-and-catch scenario from there and Kelly connects. Touchdown.
Analysis: I wanted to highlight this play, not necessarily because Kelly did anything extraordinary, but rather to show Ole Miss’ consistent application of their play-action game-plan paying off with a long score. Kelly and the offensive coordinator paid their dues and came away with a huge play. Kelly’s throw, albeit to a wide open target, was right on the money though.
With time running out in the second quarter, Ole Miss is trying to get into halftime on top. We see 'Bama rush four, and Kelly feels the edge pressure and escapes. He scrambles left and picks up the first down with his legs.
Analysis: On this play we see Kelly’s escape-ability and the wherewithal to pick up yards with his legs. He rarely throws the ball away and is always looking for a way to pick up positive yards. That's good and bad, as we'll see next. However, he’s surprisingly athletic and mobile.
Ole Miss is backed up deep in their own territory. 'Bama blitzes with a safety but Ole Miss picks it up. Meanwhile, the 'Bama OLB initially swings out to cover the running back, before reversing course and rushing Kelly off the edge at the top of the screen. Ole Miss’ RT is engaged by this point with the blitzing safety, along with the RB who fired forward to help pick up the blitz. The RT either doesn’t see or is too busy to react and the OLB flushes Kelly out of the pocket. By this time, Kelly has had plenty of time to either throw the ball away — because it was good coverage — or rush forward for positive yards. Instead, he scrambles left to buy some time while he scans the field. The OLB gets home, knocking the ball loose, which is picked up and returned for six points.
Analysis: Unacceptable. Much gets made of Kelly’s fast starts in the first half of games, while not playing as consistently in the final 30 minutes. We see why he's earned that reputation here. On Ole Miss’ first possession of the second half, they’re backed up once again in their own endzone.
This is a situation in which Kelly has to have better awareness and live to fight another day. He’s got to pay attention to his internal clock. This play was the momentum-swinger 'Bama was looking for. Not only did it tie the game, but it wrested control away from Kelly and Ole Miss, leading to the loss.
The Rebels are moving the ball, now down by three. 'Bama is in the nickel, playing man-coverage. Kelly runs the play-action, and proceeds to roll out right. TE Evan Engram stays home to block, buying Kelly the time he needs. Kelly looks left for a fraction of a second, long enough to hold the safety, then unloads to the receiver at the top of the screen — who’s being covered by first-round CB Marlon Humphrey. Kelly’s ball is perfect, splitting the safety and corner and dropping it right in the bucket for the receiver to haul it in. It looks like a score, but is ruled down short of the goal-line.
Analysis: Kelly fought back after his blunder on the goal-line. He had Ole Miss moving down the field. There are so many things to like about this play. The fake, the rollout, the eye-manipulation and lastly, the throw. All pro characteristics.
After defeating Alabama as a junior in 2015, Kelly and the Rebels fell short last season. Ole Miss got down by three scores at one point in the second half, but Kelly battled back and brought the score to within five. Had the Rebel defense been able to hold Alabama on their final posssession and give the ball back to their offense one more time, I would have liked Kelly’s odds to drive down for six one last time.
It’s easy to see why some expert Draft evaluators like Mike Mayock viewed Kelly as a first-round caliber talent, if you take away the medical and character concerns. For a what-the-heck pick at No. 253 — and the last of the Draft — the Broncos are getting a very talented signal-caller.
If Kelly is able to control himself off-the-field and in the meeting rooms, and just focus on playing football, the sky is the limit. He's already compared himself to John Elway and Brett Favre in a Denver radio interview. I love the bravado, but maybe tone it down a little, Chad.
With his knee situation and wrist, there’s a good chance he ends up having to redshirt his rookie season on injured reserve. However, if he’s healthy enough to play under the preseason lights in August — like GM John Elway and the team hope he can — he will put pressure on Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian.
I’m not expecting any miracles from Chad Kelly as a rookie. Let’s face it, there are a lot of politics involved in the quarterback competition and they existed long before Kelly arrived. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Chad Kelly as a Bronco really intrigues me.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.