Over the past several seasons, the headline story out of training camp for the Denver Broncos was in respect to who would be taking snaps behind center. With Case Keenum etched in stone as the Broncos’ starter for the 2018 campaign — those story lines won’t be bombarding the media waves. However, the battle for who will be backing him up for the 2018 season certainly will get a lot of attention.
Name: Chad Kelly
Height: 6’ 2”
Experience: 2nd season
College: Ole Miss (previously Clemson and East Mississippi Community College)
In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Broncos moved up for Memphis Tigers product Paxton Lynch — the assumed heir apparent at the position for the franchise. Unfortunately, Lynch hasn’t developed as quickly as hoped for and was unable to beat out Trevor Siemian in two consecutive training camp battles.
A year later, the franchise chose Ole Miss Rebels signal caller Chad Kelly with the last selection in the draft — making him that year’s ‘Mr. Irrelevant.’ Though irrelevant isn’t quite the word anyone should use to describe Kelly. Injury and character concerns caused him to plummet down draft boards, but anybody who watched him play, especially his tremendous 2015 campaign knows that he has the tools to be a starting quarterback in this league.
Kelly started 22 games for the Rebels in his junior and senior years, throwing for 6,800 yards, 50 touchdowns with a 64 percent completion percentage. In addition to his passing prowess, he was efficient as a runner, racking up 841 yards on 187 carries and 15 touchdowns. That production was good enough to earn him first team All-SEC honors in 2015 and second team All-SEC honors in 2016.
Chad Kelly readying to compete for Broncos' backup job https://t.co/H6yLBboynU— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) May 13, 2018
One of the first positives that is evident when you breakdown Kelly’s games from Ole Miss is his arm strength. He had one of the strongest arms out of all the quarterbacks in the 2015 class. His ability to throw the ball to all levels of the field is a definite plus. Another positive aspect to his game is his willingness and desire to complete tough throws in the middle of the field, an area of the field many young quarterbacks avoid.
Additionally, Kelly was extremely comfortable and efficient when throwing on the run. On play action plays, he completed nearly 67 percent of those throws, four total points higher than his overall completion rate in his two years at Ole Miss. He also demonstrated the ability to make plays with his legs and ran for a lot of first downs and touchdowns.
Another area where Kelly deserves praise is related to how well he did against top competition. In his 2015 season, Kelly rallied the Rebels to victories on the road against Alabama and Auburn — as well as beating Louisiana State at home. In those three games, Kelly completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,002 yards and 7 touchdowns with 2 interceptions. The following season, his success against competition continued and he was able to pick apart Tre’Davious White and Marlon Humphrey, who were first round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. It’s safe to say when the stakes were at their highest — Kelly played some of his best football and was able to rise to the occasion with good results.
Chad Kelly when throwing at Tre'Davious White & Marlon Humphrey in 2016— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 27, 2017
153.3 QB ratinghttps://t.co/usxXQGQ3kq
Even though there have been questions regarding over his overall character, there is no doubting Kelly’s competitive drive, desire to win and passion for the game. That’s evident on game tape and it’s crystal clear that his teammates rallied around him. Perhaps most importantly, he is the type of player who can elevate the play of his supporting cast. During rookie orientation over a month ago, Kelly had a chance to reflect on his NFL journey to date and his goals for the coming season.
“I’m just trying to get better every rep. To come out here for rookie camp and being the only quarterback out here, to get all of these reps, whether it is throwing routes, running team period or working with coaches in individual, that is how you get better,” stated Kelly.
He also knows that in order to be the best player possible, he has to work on being consistent and work from the ground up — since it’s been a long time since he has been able to compete on the field.
“To be consistent and repeat everything that you’re doing—being out of the game for a year and a half, there hasn’t been any consistency in what I’ve been doing. I’ve got to get back to doing that, feeling like myself and going out there and competing at a high level.”
If Kelly continues to develop and improve, I believe he has more than just backup potential — I think that he can be a starter in this league. In recent memory, Broncos Country has witnessed players of lesser caliber start for the team — so why couldn’t Kelly do the same if called upon?
The most notable issue is the fact that Kelly hasn’t seen in-game reps since early November of 2016, where he tore his ACL and lateral meniscus in a game against Georgia Southern. While reports from rookie orientation, OTA’s and mini-camp have been positive about Kelly’s development both physically and mentally — he virtually is starting at the bottom of the map in regard to where he needs to be as a player.
In analyzing his tape from his collegiate career, there are a few major issues that are a cause for concern. Kelly played in a quarterback-friendly system at Ole Miss, with a lot of defined reads that exposed coverage on the right side of the field. His completion percentage and accuracy were evident there, but his production and consistency dropped off mightily when throwing to the left side. He struggled with the deep ball immensely in his senior campaign and looked much worse in anticipating plays and going through his progressions as a senior.
While some may love his gunslinger approach to the position, but his penchant for interceptions (21 interceptions in 22 games with the Rebels) deserves scrutiny. Instead opting for high-risk, high-reward throws, Kelly would benefit from a much more disciplined approach and take what is available as opposed to turning he ball over on miracle throws. A lot of the gambles he took may fool the average college player, but NFL caliber defensive backs will make him pay dearly if he continues to force throws and roll the dice like he did often at Ole Miss.
Last but not least, he also lacks experience under center, with the Rebels operating out of the shotgun and pistol formation under Hugh Freeze and Dan Werner — but that’s a common issue with many young quarterback prospects due to the proliferation of the spread attack in the collegiate ranks.
“I’ve been proud of Chad overall. He’s been here every day and he’s worked his butt off. You mentioned it, he’s changed his body. Last year he was a little tubby kid. He’s really lean now, he’s eating right, he’s working hard. He’s definitely put the work in and he’s throwing the ball really well right now, so I’m really proud of Chad.” — Head Coach Vance Joseph on Chad Kelly during Broncos’ Rookie Orientation
As outlined above, Case Keenum is the Broncos’ starting quarterback for the 2018 season. Training camp and preseason performance will dictate whether it will be Chad Kelly or Paxton Lynch backing him up — and I believe Kelly can win (and will win) the job. Regardless, I expect the franchise to keep all three of them on the final roster this season to brace themselves for the unexpected, worst case scenario.