There are 253 picks in the NFL draft, and it took until the very last one for former Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly to be selected by the Denver Broncos.
A torn ACL ended Kelly’s season, and a wrist injury cut his pro day short. Just a week later, Kelly had wrist surgery which sidelined him for three months. A lengthy injury report and noted off-the-field issues led to Kelly’s draft slide, which was long enough for him to take a quick nap. When Kelly finally came off the board, he became “Mr. Irrelevant”, just the second time a QB has been taken with the draft’s final pick.
Kelly now becomes the third QB on the Bronco’s roster and may have a chance to shed the “irrelevant” label on a team whose offense continues to feel the repercussions of Peyton Manning’s retirement. Trevor Seimian, a former 7th round pick, took the majority of the snaps for the Broncos in 2016, and his play was met with a lukewarm reception. With a 59 percent completion percentage, 18 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, 3,400 yards it wasn’t a bad season, but it certainly wasn’t enough to guarantee him the starting job in 2017.
Last year’s 1st round pick Paxton Lynch received some playing time as well. While it was evident the former Memphis QB has talent, he may not have been ready for the bright lights of the NFL. A full off-season of studying the playbook and refining his chemistry with the team’s receivers will do wonders for Lynch, but the two QBs combined to give the Broncos the 27th ranked offense in terms of yards last season. This is where Kelly comes into play.
In just two seasons with the Rebels, Kelly surpassed 6,800 yards and threw for 50 touchdowns making Ole Miss’ offense one of the more prolific in the country. The last pick in the draft isn’t even guaranteed a roster spot by any means, but Kelly isn’t your typical “Mr. Irrelevant.” With a big arm, big game experience and success against some of the SEC’s tops defenses including Alabama, Kelly was in prime position to be one of the top QBs in the 2017 draft before the injuries and the issues pilled up.
As unpredictable as he has been off of the field, Kelly has displayed the kind of talent that any franchise could want. If Kelly thought he needed to behave in Oxford, Mississippi or Clemson, South Carolina, he has to know that he can’t afford to replicate his mistakes as an NFL player. When it came down to a team deciding to take a chance on Kelly, Broncos GM John Elway needed to be sure Kelly understands the situation he’s in. Elway got his conformation from Jim Kelly, Chad’s Hall of Fame Uncle.
“I called his uncle, and he said he’s a good kid. I said, ‘OK. That’s all I need,” Elway told the media. “I trust Jim with that. I think that obviously there’s been some history there, but we felt comfortable that Chad understands what he’s been through and is ready to take this step and realizes the step that he’s taking. It’s got to be a little bit different than it was when he was in college.”
On the field, 1st-year head coach of the Broncos, Vance Joseph is looking forward to working with Kelly who he had high praise for after the team selected him.
“He was my favorite quarterback in the draft,” Joseph told reporters. “He beat Alabama. That’s tough to do as a college quarterback. He’s a tough guy. He’s smart. He’s made some childish mistakes in the past, but he’s learned from those things, so I’m comfortable with him.”
With the Broncos brass behind him, Kelly has a chance to reinvent himself and potentially become a big part of the Bronco’s future IF he stays healthy and out of trouble. As someone who witnessed the good and the bad of Kelly’s college career, I recognize the broad spectrum on which Kelly could wind up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he one day becomes the Broncos’ starter or if he can’t shape up and handle the microscope under which NFL QBs must live under.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.