Position: Running back
Weight: 216 pounds
School: Tennessee Volunteers
Combine Performance Data:
40-yard dash: 4.64 seconds
Vertical jump: 35 inches
Broad jump: 10 feet
Three-cone drill: 7.13 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.51 seconds
John Kelly 2018 NFL Draft Profile
Throughout the 2017 draft process, there was a narrative about a talented, yet, underused Tennessee running back… rookie sensation, Alvin Kamara. This off-season, John Kelly has fallen under the same category. While Kelly may not be the next NFL offensive rookie of the year, he will strive to make an immediate impact his rookie season in the NFL.
— The D Zone (@TheD_Zone) December 30, 2017
Before spending his college career in Knoxville, Kelly was a standout running back for Oak Park High School, located in Detroit, MI. During his senior season, Kelly rushed for 1,321 yards and 21 touchdowns, while also returning a punt and kickoff for a touchdown. Kelly received scholarship offers from Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota but chose to become the Volunteers’ newest running back.
Kelly’s freshman year foreshadowed the rest of his collegiate career at Tennessee as he was used sparingly behind the likes of Kamara and Jalen Hurd. The talented Oak Park product received 40 rushing attempts for 165 yards and did not record a reception his first year. Tennessee would go on to finish the year 9-4 and win the Outback Bowl, where Kelly rushed for his first career touchdown.
In 2016, Kelly made the most of his uptick in opportunities. The second-year running back saw gains in every category across the board – 103 touches, 630 rushing yards, five touchdowns – including a very impressive 6.4 yards-per-carry. The four-headed rushing attack, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs, limited the contribution of one single rusher for the Volunteers.
In what would be his final year at Tennessee, Kelly finally became the Volunteers’ featured back. As the starter, Kelly set new career-highs with 189 rushing attempts, 37 catches, 1,077 scrimmage yards, and nine touchdowns. In his best collegiate performance, Kelly rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown while hauling in nine catches for 96 yards against Florida. Kelly carried Tennessee’s offense, as he totaled 237 yards from scrimmage in a narrow 26-20 loss to the Gators. Despite tallying only 370 career touches, Kelly displayed subtle elusiveness and the ability to consistently make defenders miss.
Tennessee RB John Kelly forced 54 missed tackles in 11 games in 2017 pic.twitter.com/kCyYk3K7rI
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) February 13, 2018
- excels at breaking tackles despite small frame;
- exceptional receiver out the backfield;
- subtle elusiveness;
- displays balance through contact;
- excellent vision.
- not highly athletic;
- struggles to find cutback lanes;
- only one year of starter reps;
- lacks game-breaking speed;
- needs to be a part of a committee at next level.
NFL Comparison: Kareem Hunt
Projection: Third to fourth round
The greatest fit for Kelly would be a Kamara or Tevin Coleman-like role where there is already an established starter. Kelly’s best football is ahead of him as a change-of-pace back that can be utilized in the passing game. Kelly may not be a superb athlete but his vision, receiving ability, and elusiveness can diversify an offense.
The league witnessed a two-back system in New Orleans that revolutionized a pass-centric offense for the Saints. In a copycat league, teams will search for the Kamara to their Mark Ingram, or the “flash” to their “dash” in hopes of replicating the same impact. Perhaps there is none better than Kamara’s former teammate Kelly to fill that void in an offense. Look for Kelly to receive a larger role as the 2018 season progresses in the hopes he can make a significant impact.