It seems there is at least one running back in every class who you really want to like, but when the dust settles on NFL Draft season there just isn’t enough evidence pointing towards a success story. But maybe that running back defies the odds. It’s definitely possible. Is it likely? That probably isn’t the word.
This year that running back is John Kelly for many people. His overall prospect profile has plenty of holes in it but let’s try and figure out if he could or should succeed in the NFL.
When it comes to “complete production profiles” John Kelly doesn’t exactly check that box.
Statistics from sports-reference.com.
But let’s take a closer look to understand the context Kelly was forced into.
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When Kelly joined the Tennessee Volunteers in 2015, he was a three-star recruit buried behind future NFL Star Alvin Kamara and a big bruising back in Jalen Hurd. There wasn’t much work to go around for the young, unproven back.
When 2016 came, both Kamara and Hurd were still around, but Kelly’s talent was too much to ignore for the Tennessee coaching staff. He still only logged the third most backfield touches, but he closed the gap there and actually led the volunteers in rushing yards. After Hurd and Kamara left following the 2016 season it was clear Kelly was in for a huge role. But could he be a feature for Tennessee? He had only caught six career receptions at that point.
In 2017, Kelly answered that question with an emphatic “yes” to his critics. Kelly kicked off the 2017 season with three unbelievable games against Georgia Tech, Indiana State, and Florida. He posted at least 140 yards from scrimmage and five receptions in all three games. And even when defenses adjusted, trying to slow Kelly down, it didn’t matter. Through those three games, Kelly was averaging more than seven yards per carry against boxes with an extra defender.
However, the Tennessee offense imploded shortly thereafter thanks to a mess at quarterback and a coaching staff that quickly found itself on the way out the door. Kelly failed to eclipse 80 rushing yards in any of his last seven games for Tennessee. He only reached five receptions in one game down that same stretch.
The truth is Kelly’s production profile just doesn’t tell the whole story. But regardless of the context, Kelly simply did not consistently dominate at the collegiate level. Should we believe he can dominate in the NFL?
If there is anything that provides some reason to be optimistic, it’s Kelly’s film. Not only does he put together some fun highlights like the ones below but he demonstrates some traits that definitely translate to the pros.
The first thing that probably stands out about John Kelly is his ferocious play style. Even though he’s not exactly huge, Kelly has no problem finishing through contact. You may hear some loud takes about how a smaller satellite back won’t be able to do that in pros, but don’t let that fool you.
Some of Kelly’s highlight plays do involve some nasty contact, but the majority of the time he actually attempts a deflection or full evasive maneuver instead. However, regardless of the degree to which Kelly avoids contact, he plays the way he does because he understands his skill set. As we’ll get to in a bit, he doesn’t have elite athleticism, but he does boast possibly the best balance and body control in this running back class. That shows up in his pass catching, adjustments through contact, and footwork consistently.
Kelly also definitely boasts some of the best vision in this class. There are numerous examples of Kelly reading the defense successfully prior to even being handed the ball. He’ll position his feet and hips to make the right cut instinctively, and finish strong. That’s just about every running play for Kelly.
Sadly though, it’s also evident through watching film that John Kelly boasts typical three-star recruit athleticism.
The film apparently didn’t lie with Kelly’s athletic profile (all measurements via MockDraftable).
He actually weighed in a little heavier than expected. Plus, his vertical and broad jumps exemplify his strength and burst through the hole and off contact. However, his embarrassing agility profile definitely showed at times for Tennessee.
It also didn’t help that Kelly abstained from the 40-yard dash at the Combine. All that did is spark more controversy over whether Kelly had any pro-level speed in him. His pro day forty times brought even more confusion. His first unofficial time was 4.65, which is absolutely abysmal (especially for a pro day time). But then his second attempt came in a 4.5. If we adjust for pro day times coming in a bit fast that time isn’t embarrassing, but it also isn’t impressive given his size.
Overall Kelly’s athletic profile just looks like an average (at best) pro running back. That doesn’t eliminate him from being a possible hit, but there are at least some questions that still remain.
According to April 2018 Rookie ADP, Kelly is going around pick 15 in rookie drafts right now. That will probably change after Kelly slips to day three of the NFL Draft, but that’s where he is at this moment. Unless you’re playing in a league with people from Tennessee, Kelly looks to be a lock for a round two rookie selection.
His April 2018 Startup ADP doesn’t look like it’s too aggressive either. He’s currently the 41st running back coming off the board in the same range as Jamaal Williams, Chris Carson, and Marlon Mack. That could continue to drop just a bit in the near future as well unless he lands in the perfect spot.
I kick off this video talking about John Kelly a little bit.
— Travis May (@FF_TravisM) March 6, 2018
Overall, I’m still a believer in the potential that John Kelly brings as a receiver and ferocious, yet decisive runner. His profile is far from perfect. He doesn’t check all of the boxes physically or statistically. But if given the opportunity, just like Kareem Hunt last year, could find success.
As always, find me on Twitter @FF_TravisM. Look for videos using the hashtag #TouchdownTime. And yes, I love to chat about these players. I want to learn from you! Thanks for reading, and keeping living that Dynasty Life!