Somewhere, quarterback Andrew Luck had to be smiling.
The Indianapolis Colts gave their franchise quarterback an anchor to an offensive line in need of improvement with the first-round selection of Alabama center Ryan Kelly in Thursday’s NFL draft in Chicago.
“We got our guy,” said Colts general manager Ryan Grigson.
Head coach Chuck Pagano couldn’t resist making a comparison to longtime Colts center Jeff Saturday, a six-time Pro Bowl star who with quarterback Peyton Manning set an NFL record for most starts by a tandem at 170.
“I think they needed a center to work with Luck,” Kelly understated on a conference call.
The highest-ranked player at his position, Kelly will be counted upon to provide much-needed stability after Luck shuffled through five centers in four seasons. That the 6-4, 311-pound Kelly was chosen in the first round is historically promising, too. In the last 10 years, six of seven centers taken in the opening round have reached the Pro Bowl.
That’s what NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock, among others, expects of Kelly, who didn’t allow a sack last season.
“He is scheme diverse, and can play zone or man. He can play all three interior offensive line positions,” Mayock said. “He’s as good a center prospect as I’ve seen in years. I think he will be a Pro Bowler.”
Gil Brandt, one of the NFL’s most respected talent evaluators, said Kelly can be plugged into the offense immediately and would play well for at least a decade.
Although the Rimington Trophy Award winner played his college ball for the national champion Crimson Tide in the Southeastern Conference, he’s actually a Midwestern kid. His hometown is West Chester, Ohio, and he went to high school just outside of Cincinnati.
Grigson said Kelly was a leader in the Alabama locker room and will bring those qualities to his pro career. Pagano assured the pro stage wouldn’t be too big for the rookie.
"I'm just looking forward to getting in there," Kelly said of Indianapolis.
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