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2018 NFL Draft: Breaking down Tennessee RB John Kelly

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He’s an angry, powerful back.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Height: 5-9

Weight: 216

Class: Junior

Production: Career rushing: 327 carries, 1,573 yards, 15 TDs. Averaged 4.8 per carry. Added 27 receptions for 250 yards in 2017.


Overview and clips

Watch one minute of a John Kelly cut-up and you will quickly understand why he was a fan favorite during his time at Tennessee. Kelly’s effort and toughness will never be questioned. His power, agility and burst make him a nightmare to bring down in the open field.

Kelly never reached his full potential during his time at Tennessee. The former three star recruit was initially buried behind Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara on the depth chart. He got his break when Hurd opted to leave the program in 2016.

To be frank, Tennessee got an upgrade subbing in Kelly and Kamara for Hurd. Kelly’s talent was obvious from the get-go. He just ran with a different style and attitude. The guy just ran angry all the time.

Kelly’s best trait is his ability to maximize runs, squeezing out every ounce of yardage possible. His never-ending leg churn helps him continue to go forward through contact.

Here you see Kelly flash his legendary stiff-arm, which I’ll get to a little later. I’m more interested in his recovery here. Watch him get balanced again and get upfield, then drop his shoulder into a linebacker. Kelly forces a missed tackle and finishes the run four about five more yards. This is just pure power and effort. Kelly’s low center of gravity is on display here.

What makes Kelly special is his ability to move laterally. He’s got the power and burst, but watch what he does here. This is a totally different run where Kelly forces a missed tackle with a big-time juke.

Kelly can mow you down or simply get elusive with defenders, but his go-to move is the stiff arm. It’s a thing of beauty. Just watch the clip below.

Kelly proved his worth as a pass catcher this year, operating as a safety valve for Tennessee’s struggling quarterbacks. Tennessee worked to get him the ball in space through the screen game, which worked wonders against Georgia Tech and Florida.


Addressing Concerns

  • There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the NFL will be concerned with John Kelly’s size, especially when you consider his power running style. 5-9 isn’t a big deal, but teams will likely want him to add weight to his 205 pound frame.
  • Kelly was cited for possession of marijuana in October of 2017. He ended up being suspended for just one game after meeting Butch Jones’ stipulations to return.
  • Kelly’s production won’t blow anyone away. Some teams put more value on that than others, but I would caution knocking Kelly for his numbers. His offensive line was flat out terrible in 2017, especially in the second half of the year as the injuries piled up. Kelly was the best player on one of the worst offensives in D-1, so he was often the focal point of the defense.

Draft projection

John Kelly’s draft ceiling is probably somewhere in the third round, but I expect him to go a bit lower. That’s not really a reflection on him, it’s more due to the fact that this running back class is completely loaded.

Someone in the NFL is going to get a very talented, angry runner for a bargain.