SE Louisiana quarterback Cole Kelley projects as a scheme-specific developmental quarterback at the NFL level. Kelley enters the league after a highly successful campaign in 2021, which saw him shred opposing defenses on seemingly a weekly basis for chunk gains and big yards. Kelley’s play isn’t without its warts but the physical skillset that once made him a prized recruit to Arkansas is still clear and obvious when watching him on film. I wouldn’t expect Kelley to be a player that demands early playing time but traditional, deep set passing offenses that look to push the ball vertically will be where he’s given the best chance to succeed with time, patience and likely a few seasons on the practice squad. Kelley’s monster season for SE Louisiana in 2021 resulted in him finishing as the runner up to the Walter Payton Award, an honor he collected during the FCS spring season. Set expectations accordingly: Kelley is raw and will not see the field. But if you’re looking for a developmental passer, there’s a lot of pop in his arm and he’s shown to be plenty capable of shrugging off opposing pass rushers through his time as a starter.
Ideal role: Developmental quarterback
Scheme tendencies: Vertical passing offense and traditional under-center backfield alignments
Written by Kyle Crabbs
Games watched: James Madison (2021), Louisiana Tech (2021), Nicholls (2021), North Alabama (2021)
Best Game Studied: Louisiana Tech (2021)
Worst Game Studied: James Madison (2021)
Accuracy: The completion percentage doesn’t necessary tell the full story here; as Kelley does not consistently offer firm ball placement when needing to make decisions with swiftness. He’s more of a long delivery passer who is more consistent from a clean base and throwing without bodies around him in the pocket.
Decision Making: Kelley’s lapses in ball security were large issues in some of the defeats SE Louisiana took in the fall — including decisions that seemed to snowball and let the game slip away (James Madison). Kelley’s ability to work quickly through progressions needs improvement to help him compensate for a longer delivery.
Poise: I can certainly appreciate Kelley’s ability to pull the ball and make plays with his legs but I do not see a dynamic athlete who will challenge defenders in the same way at the NFL level. He’s shown some bright moments pulling through contact and playing with defenders draped on his frame to throw out of sacks — but the process doesn’t always meet the results of low turnovers here.
Progressions: Things are going to move quicker at the next level. Kelley’s eyes can be prone to getting stuck on his initial read too often. With time, he can sort through information sufficiently and find open targets.
Release: He’s got plenty of pop in his throw to allow him to hold the ball and throw late — and while his levers are long in delivery there are still some flashes of effective ball handling in the mesh. Unbothered by needing to catch and release for quick timing throws without the laces.
Pocket Manipulation: Willing to climb the pocket and unbothered by throwing overtop of interior pressure. His ability to slide laterally does not showcase a high level of feel however and he’s going to get by more with playing through contact instead of gracefully evading it.
Arm Strength: This is where Kelley really pops. He’s got a ton of juice on the ball end effortlessly zips throws to all levels of the field from all landmarks.
Mobility: His athletic testing tells you all you need to know. He’s very much a stationary pocket passer despite his rushing production this past season — although I would expect you can get firm conversion rate on short-yardage runs.
Leadership: Kelley’s football character received some much-needed rehab at SE Louisiana after struggling at Arkansas and pleading guilty to a DWI charge in 2017. But he’s been a multi-year starter who received plus reviews for his love of football throughout the pre-draft process.
Mechanics: It doesn’t always look pretty — although on-time throws to early progressions certainly do. He’s capable of hitting and pushing the ball off platform and completing throws; though his accuracy does wane as he’s not a quick-twitch athlete to reset.
Prospect Comparison: Nate Sudfeld (2016 NFL Draft)
TDN Consensus: 72.75/100 (Fourth Round Value)
Crabbs Grade: 72.00/100
Marino Grade: 73.50/100