John Kelly Should Be An Immediate Contributor in the Passing Game
John Kelly was a significant part of the passing game in his time at Tennessee. He figures to probably continue that impact at the next level.
He catches with soft, natural hands, is able to adjust to misplaced passes, and watches the ball into his body well. He runs good-not-great routes and does a good job of turning upfield quickly after securing the pass. In space, John Kelly is dangerous, so his ability as a receiver is an especially strong part of his game.
In the play below, watch John Kelly catch a pass that is slightly behind him, making a nice, subtle adjustment, without having to lose too much momentum. Despite the placement, Kelly catches the ball away from his frame, watches the ball in, secures the pass, and gets upfield quickly. Kelly lowers his shoulder and attacks the defender and absolutely embarrasses him, getting close to a first down.
As soon as you get Kelly in space, he becomes dangerous. Most of my concerns with his game have to do with his work around the line of scrimmage. Once he gets out in space, he instantly becomes a more deliberate runner. His patience and vision improve when he gets out from behind the line and away from the bulk of the traffic. Again, pay attention to how much lateral ground he gains with his cuts and again, pay attention to how he kicks in his leg to avoid contact with the last defender. These are things that come naturally to him.
Not a spectacular result, but in the play below, Kelly makes a great adjustment to a high-and-behind throw and is able to come down with the pass.
While John Kelly isn’t a Christian McCaffrey or Theo Riddick level route runner, he does present much more in terms of experience in this area than most running backs entering the NFL. He isn’t just limited to the screen game. In the play below, John Kelly runs a nice route with a nice angle route and gets the defender to bite inside, creating plenty of separation for the catch and run. His balance to stay on his feet after the initial hit is impressive. His reaction and body control to immediately hurdle a fallen defender after that is even more impressive. Unfortunately, this play ends in a fumble, but overall it’s a very impressive display of his skill set.
As I’ve stated in most of my other running back profiles, college running backs almost always need work in pass protection when they enter the NFL. That said, some running backs are a few steps ahead of others in this area. John Kelly is a running back in this 2018 NFL Draft class that needs significantly less work in pass protection. His muscular frame and low center of gravity help give him a good base for pass protection, and he doesn’t shy away from contact.