The NFL has some odd tendencies in drafting running backs. Of course we’ve all heard the phrase “RBs are a dime a dozen”. And for a vast majority of them, yes. The talent pool at RB is stocked as full as any position in the league.
But the NFL also doesn’t play by these rules anymore, having drafted 8 running backs in the first round since 2015. The lucky eight?
- 2015 Todd Gurley, Rams
- 2015 Melvin Gordon, Chargers
- 2016 Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
- 2017 Leonard Fournette, Jaguars
- 2017 Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
- 2018 Saquon Barkley, Giants
- 2018 Rashad Penny, Seahawks
- 2018 Sony Michel, Patriots
The common denominator between these eight backs is their athletic ability in relation to their size. All who tested (Gurley did not) logged above average athleticism when scoring their tests against their size. And having accomplished peak production, it appears the NFL has their model of exceptions.
“RBs are a dime a dozen, except we’re not going to treat them like they are.”
Enter John Kelly, the 176th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Kelly, who is a former Tennessee Volunteer, had a frustrating career behind an underwhelming offensive line that simply found creating rushing lanes too tough of a task do do with any consistency.
He’s not having those same issues thus far in the preseason, having logged 77, 56 and 64 rushing yards respectively in three games for the Los Angeles Rams. But Kelly had much better film, even with the line issues at Tennessee, than he got credit for.
His 2018 NFL Draft report can be found below:
Kelly showed that “tremendous balance and ability to sustain forward momentum/footing after contact” yesterday with this dazzling 15-yard touchdown romp.
— NFL (@NFL) August 25, 2018
So with evident gifts and abilities as a running back and an above average athleticism score when adjusting for his size, what caused a slide? It’s hard to say for sure. Kelly’s perception may have been skewed by a Pro Day only 40 time (he ran 4.65 and then in the 4.5s). Or perhaps whispers off the field caught up with Kelly.
Either way, he’s clearly outperformed Malcolm Brown this summer and is in all likelihood going to be the #2 back when the season opens.
Undervalued backs are as much of a certainty as death and taxes.
Arian Foster, C.J. Anderson, Priest Holmes, Fred Jackson all went completely undrafted. So, too, did Corey Clement, who can be John Kelly’s role model in 2018. Clement came in last year and eventually found himself in a key role for the Super Bowl Champion Eagles, having 6 touchdowns and being a key contributor in several big situations throughout the season.
Kelly didn’t have to go through the entire draft without hearing his name called, but he should absolutely have a chip on his shoulder as the 15th RB drafted. And Kelly, like Clement, will have every chance as RB2 to make some key plays for the Rams, who have a Super Bowl of their own in mind this season.
The final remaining hurdle for Kelly is to sustain his positive reps once the action transitions from the preseason to the regular season schedule. Barring a catastrophic injury to Todd Gurley, Kelly’s workload will be light, so he will need to make his chances count.
But as the second string back, Kelly will absolutely see the ball every Sunday. And he’ll look to follow the mold most recently set by Corey Clement to make a few teams wish they’d seen him in a different light last April.