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Kyu Blu Kelly
NFL Draft

Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly Striving To Be Next Top Ball-Hawking CB

  • Justin Melo
  • August 25, 2022
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Rostering several dominant boundary cornerbacks has become a necessity in today’s pass-happy NFL. It’s made drafting cornerbacks with premium selections a popular strategy. Looking ahead to the 2023 NFL Draft, Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly is potentially a first-round worthy cornerback. Kelly possesses all the traits necessary to eventually shut down standout wide receivers.

The No. 25 overall player in our latest TDN100 update, Kelly recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network. We discussed his upcoming campaign, self-teaching scouting opportunities, working alongside terrific coaches such as David Shaw and Duane Akina, his ball production as a cornerback, his offseason training regimen, and so much more.

JM: We’re nearly a week away from Stanford’s regular-season opener against Colgate on Saturday, September 3. Time is flying. You’re entering a crucial season. What has your offseason training regimen looked like?

Kyu Blu Kelly: It started in the winter with early morning lifts and runs with the team of course. I’ve enjoyed a typical offseason in the world of college football. That occurred up until Spring ball, which was a fruitful period for us. We were able to compete through that. I did some spring training on my own after that, which included running the 40-yard dash and some combine training. That took us into the summer and straight into camp. Like you said, time is flying. 

JM: We’re glad you benefited from a regular offseason. We love to offer a player an opportunity to scout himself. Where is your biggest area for growth heading into the season?

Kyu Blu Kelly: Knowing that people are going to look up my stats and what have you, they’ll notice I had more pass breakups than interceptions. Every defensive back wants to record more picks than breakups. That’s an area of focus for me in 2022. I want to become more of a ball-hawk. 

Every corner also loves to put physicality on tape. I want to record more tackles, more physical tackles at that. I want to help set the edge in the run game and add that to my tape and overall resume. 

I also want to be stickier in off-coverage. I’m trying to stay stickier at the top of those routes. I want to have a good feel for that while staying in phase. I feel like every cornerback can scout themselves on some of those savvier aspects of playing the position.  

JM: I have a few follow-ups. Firstly, you brought up ball production. You recorded a Pac-12-leading 13 passes defended last season (11 pass breakups, two interceptions). That ranked 20th nationally overall. How did you develop a knack for getting your hands on the football?

Kyu Blu Kelly: It’s tough for me to pinpoint, to be honest with you. It’s all about putting yourself in good positions to make plays. It’s about playing good press technique and staying tight to the hip. You have to remain in phase once you start running with guys. 

Route recognition is a big thing as well. Film study is another one. Being able to read concepts is a huge help when it comes to being in position to get your hands on the ball. Being in the right places makes it a lot easier to create ball production.

JM: You mentioned wanting to turn some of that ball production into more interceptions and takeaways as opposed to pass breakups. How are you striving toward making that reality?

Kyu Blu Kelly: It’s some of the same things I just mentioned. I’m trying to get stickier at the top of routes so I can come out of my breaks faster and more efficiently. It’s more of a mentality thing than anything. I want to see ball, get ball. I’m really focused on that. 

I’m not thinking about pass breakups. How can I get two hands on this football? That’s my mentality going forward. I’m thinking about interceptions before pass breakups. Picks come when they come. You can’t force a pick unless you jump a route. I’m definitely making that my mentality though. I’m going to be ready to make those plays.

JM: You also talked about physicality. When we turn the tape on, we see a cornerback that plays big and physical. You play to your size, which is listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. Not every cornerback plays physical nowadays. What do you enjoy about that?

Kyu Blu Kelly: I love playing physically within the scope of our defense. Our defense loves putting cornerbacks in the box. We play some linebacker. I have to read offensive tackles and guards. Playing in this defense has improved my overall mental awareness. It gives me a mentality in both the passing and running games. 

Also, it’s just fun to me. It allows me to play different positions. I play the game at different levels for our defense. I have to read tight ends and pulling guards. I’m never doing just one thing. That’s something we really harp on here at Stanford. We have to play with good technique and physicality.

JM: Stanford mixes their coverages. We’ve seen you thrive in both man and zone. How do you approach them differently?

Kyu Blu Kelly: I definitely do. Zone is the best because you can actually see everything. You can watch the play develop without worrying about being locked in on one receiver. You don’t have to worry about just the No. 1 receiver or whichever receiver is to your side. I’m reading the quarterback, seeing his drop and progressions. If he bites on something, I can jump a route.

 My mentality in zone coverage is to jump the route, more so than in man coverage because I have help over the top. If I see the quarterback plant, I’m going for the pick. That’s the mentality change I’m talking about, especially in zone coverage.

JM: Does that mean you prefer playing zone coverage?

Kyu Blu Kelly: No, I love man coverage (laughs). The stakes are so much higher. You’re in that position on an island. I love man coverage because the reward is so much greater as opposed to zone coverage. I love them both almost evenly. When I’m in zone coverage, it’s easier to get that ball production. I slightly prefer man coverage though. 

JM: You’re lucky to play for an excellent head coach in David Shaw, and a legendary defensive backs coach in Duane Akina, who has coached so many high-level NFL defensive backs, including Earl Thomas, Quentin Jammer, and Chris McAlister. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned under their tutelage?

Kyu Blu Kelly: With coach David Shaw, he’s helped me mature so much as a player. He’s really coached me up. He helped me realize that no moment is ever too big for me. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from coach Shaw. He helped me realize that as a defensive back, you’re going to get beat sometimes. You’re going to make plays as well. You can’t be up and down and ride the wave. You need to have a steady mentality at that position. I’ve really matured as a player throughout the years under coach Shaw.

With coach Akina, I have to mention the mental side of the game. His conceptual teaching of offensive concepts is outstanding. He has such a high understanding of how offenses are trying to attack our defense. He’s one of the best. He’s helped me go out there and make plays after watching the film. Both of those coaches have grown my game a ton, both from a mental and physical aspect.

JM: You have a background in track and field. How has that helped you play the cornerback position?

Kyu Blu Kelly: Makeup speed immediately comes to mind. It’s a tough position to play. Sometimes you’ll be in position, and sometimes you won’t be. Having that track background helps me remember how to run. Having that burst is a great thing to have in your back pocket. 

The reality of the position is you need that margin for error sometimes. Makeup speed is a huge plus.

JM: It really is. Stanford is a prestigious academic institution that demands a lot of its students. How have you managed to balance athletics with your academic obligations?

Kyu Blu Kelly: Stanford prepares us very well in that department. The athletics department really caters to the academics side of things. We’re not just always focused on our sports. They give us a lot of freedom to create our schedules. 

We receive our schedule well in advance so we can plan accordingly. You can create it to ensure you have time to do everything you need. It’s all about time management. That’s helped me out a lot. I create my schedule before the season even starts. We stay ahead of the upcoming quarter. If I need to be somewhere for class, it’s never an issue. Stanford has helped me a bunch.

JM: It’s a critical skill. Your father Brian Kelly played at USC and went on to enjoy an 11-year NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions. What’s the best piece of advice he’s given you as you attempt to embark on a professional career of your own someday?

Kyu Blu Kelly: He taught me how to live in the moment this past offseason. It’s really easy to start thinking about the future. I had to take a step back and live in each moment, especially throughout camp. Camp can be repetitive but you have to live in the moment. That repetition leads to improvement. That mentality has allowed me to attack each day with intensity and energy. It’s about making each day better than the last. That’s the best advice he gave me this offseason.

JM: That’s excellent advice from pops. Is there a game on this year’s schedule that you have circled? An opponent or wide receiver you’re particularly excited to square off with?

Kyu Blu Kelly: Knowing my dad went to USC, that’s always a big one in our household (laughs). It doesn’t matter what year it is, that game is always important. Whether that’s at Stanford Stadium or at the Coliseum, I always get a little extra hyped for that game.

Utah is always a big one. They gave us the business last year. They’re a great team. They dominated us last season. We have payback on our minds. Those are the two games I have circled this season.

JM: Those are two big ones. What do you feel is the best game you played in a Stanford jersey last season and why?

Kyu Blu Kelly: That’s a tough question. A lot of people would probably say the USC game, but I’d say Oregon personally. That was my most complete game. I played so many positions. I went from cornerback to nickel. I played a little safety based on the coverages we were calling. I feel like that was my most complete game. I was firing on all cylinders while playing multiple positions to help the team win.

JM: Those were two big performances. I’ve appreciated your time today. In closing, what are Kyu Blu Kelly’s goals for the 2022 campaign?

Kyu Blu Kelly: Our main goal is to qualify for the Rose Bowl. I really want to leave a legacy behind at Stanford. That’s the main reason I decided to come back to school. Playing alongside my teammates, playing in The Rose Bowl, and winning the Pac-12 Championship, those things are at the forefront of my goals.

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Justin Melo