The American Dream is the idea that you can become whatever you want. That if you put your head down, put in the work, stay learning and stay focused, that whatever dream you have can be in reach. For some people that’s business ventures — monetary success. For others it could be recognition — fame and grandeur.
For running back Joshua Kelley, his dream was to be a Bruin.
Kelley started his collegiate career off at UC Davis, an FCS school in Davis, California. As a two-star recruit, this was Kelley’s only scholarship offer coming out of high school. Kelley rushed for 1,139 yards and seven touchdowns in two years at UC Davis, but after the entire coaching staff got fired in 2016, Kelley had a choice to make.
Stay the course or shoot for the stars.
Kelley decided to shoot for his ceiling and walked on to UCLA as a running back. He was forced to sit out the entire 2017 season due to transfer rules, something he called a blessing in disguise.
“It was tough. It was really tough,” Kelley said. “It was also a blessing in disguise for me. I was able to learn the system but obviously the system’s not here no more (laughs) but it’s just good to get to know all my teammates, get to know the coaching staff, get to know my surroundings, how academics could fit in. I learned a lot.”
But even in the struggles of the current situation, Kelley knew that UCLA was where he wanted to be, and it was up to him to make the situation better, not change the situation entirely.
After working his tail off once eligible, still as just a walk-on, one day during summer workouts head coach Chip Kelly called Kelley into the middle of the huddle to break it down. Kelley assumed it was just because he had a good day of practice. But after he broke the team down, coach Kelly said he had once more announcement.
Kelley was officially a scholarship athlete as a UCLA Bruin.
“That was amazing. It was unexpected,” Kelley said. “We had a team meeting, I’m up there, like, oh, alright, we have a team meeting, and at the end of the team meeting, he calls me to do the break and I do the break and after that, he says the announcement. It was humbling because I was thinking about where I was a year ago — I wasn’t even here.”
But just because he was on scholarship didn’t mean the work was done. Kelley didn’t start the season as the team’s top tailback, receiving only 11 carries in the first two weeks. But, after a 12-carry, 124-yard performance against Colorado, Kelley became the big man on campus.
Kelley has rushed for 820 yards on 146 carries with seven touchdowns this season. Since the Colorado game, there has only been one game out of six than he hasn’t rushed for over 100 yards, and in that lone game he still rushed for 5.6 yards per carry.
So, with a good story and good stats getting the check of approval, I figured it was time to put Kelley through the 5-Play Prospect formula to see what kind of player the NFL might be getting their hands on soon.
Play No. 1: Blue Collar Back
Kelley has the look and feel of an old-school back, if you ask me.
Take the play above, for example. At 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, Kelley is not a player who goes down easy. He keeps his legs moving, never gets lazy with yards after contact and, if you’ll notice, always has a mind for securing the football.
There is nothing easy about bringing Kelley down or taking the ball from him. He’s conscious and has an effort for both. He’s a blue collar guy in the sense that he’s not a flashy player, and his production doesn’t come from being overly violent or explosive. But it’s trustworthy, steady and dependable. Coaches will like that.
Play No. 2: Fancy Feet
I’m not convinced Kelley is the best athlete out there (we’ll get to that), but he does possess quick feet, which is a combination trait towards his mentality as a runner, which we will get to over the next few plays.
Kelley is not only quick but he’s also light when staying on his toes, which at least gives him the maximum opportunity to see where space is going to develop and gets him on a fast track to it. Being lighter on his feet allows him to play the position the way he is most comfortable, which brings us to our next play.
Play No. 3: Patience To Play
Kelley’s top attribute when it comes to the NFL is surely his patience. As stated before, he’s not the most explosive or athletic back you’ll see in this class, but he certainly has a mind of the position.
Kelley not only has the patience to wait for plays to develop, but he also has the eyes to know where to look — this is not always a guarantee.
Play No. 4: One-Cut Back
That bring us to Kelley’s overall style.
Even Kelley says himself that he thinks his game is best as a one-cut player who can see space, make one hard move and get up field. You can definitely see in clips like the one above that that is where he is most comfortable.
But what makes Kelley different from other backs is that it takes a combination of traits to be a one-cut player. Not every back has the quick feet and the patience to make it happen. Kelley combines the talent needed with the mentality needed to be such a player.
That’s why when he makes it look easy, it’s because for him, it is.
Play No. 5: Smooth Speed
I have my worries about just how fast Kelley is, because when it comes to being a one-cut back in the NFL, you really have to put your foot in the ground and explode up the field to find space — the athletes at that level are the best in the world.
I might be hesitant on Kelley’s explosiveness, but when it comes to top speed, Kelley appears to be adequate in that area due to his smooth style, as shown above. I can live with that.
Overall, Kelley has a mentality that coaches will love and a style that has a place in the NFL. He has his mind in the right place when it comes to the little details of the game, and if he can just have a decent Combine performance, that will make him a coach’s favorite come Day 3 of the draft and during training camp when rosters are being cut.
My eval of Kelley certainly isn’t finished, as I’ll get more tape on him as the year goes on, but there are things to like in his game, and plays you can see him making on Sundays.