Scouting Profile: Running Back John Kelly

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Mar 22, 2018

Tennessee’s John Kelly is one of the better pass-catching running backs in the NFL Draft

John Kelly, Tennessee

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 216 pounds
40-yard dash: N/A
Vertical: 35 inches
Broad Jump: 10’0″

Filling the shoes of Alvin Kamara can never be an easy thing, but Kelly did a solid job doing just that at Tennessee. Upon first seeing Kelly, you might think that he’s too small to carry the ball a lot, but once you watch him play, you might be singing a different tune. Kelly can lower his shoulder at 216 pounds, but also may be the best pass-catching back in the class.

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It was an up-and-down season for Kelly in 2017, as he started the year with at least 80 yards in each of his first four games but didn’t hit that mark again for the remainder of the season (span of seven games). Granted, they play some of the stiffest competition, but you have to wonder if Kelly had an injury he was trying to play through. Whatever the case, he’s someone there’ll be a lot of debate on as he moves to the next level.

Vision/Patience: 3.0 out of 5 stars
He’s got a solid combination of getting downhill, but also having the vision to try and make something out of nothing. The issue, though, is that he lacks the acceleration to often make those runs work. There were times where I’d watch him approach the line of scrimmage in between the tackles, only to hop back a yard, go back to the edge, then hop back inside the tackle again. That stuff may work at times on the college level, but he’ll get crushed in the pros if he does that. Kelly doesn’t have bad vision, but sometimes has a bit too much patience for what he can do physically.

Elusiveness (twitch, juke, tackle breaking): 3.0 out of 5 stars
This is tough because Kelly is kind of an tweener, as someone who isn’t necessarily a bruiser, but also isn’t a shifty smaller back. He has all the tools in his belt, but none that are over the top. He almost always lunges forward in his runs, and when he lowers his shoulder, his low center of gravity usually allows him to gain an additional yard. I’m not sure if his strength will translate at the next level to that type of running back, though. He’s got some juke to him, but he’s not a quick twitch running back who’ll make someone miss very often. All in all, he’s semi-elusive, but not over-the-top.

Speed: 2.5 out of 5 stars
I was somewhat disappointed while watching Kelly in this area, because if he were to be a bit more explosive, I’d be more excited about him. Even once he gets into the open field, players of all positions seem to hang with him, while defensive backs are simply faster. I suppose this is why he didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the Combine, but his speed, or lack thereof, shows up on tape. It also may be why he added 10 pounds from the end of the season to more clearly define the player he should be. Some have mentioned him as the future Alvin Kamara, but he doesn’t have the on-demand speed that Kamara does when hitting the hole.

Pass-catching/Pass-protection: 5.0 out of 5 stars
This is the area of his game that he’ll be drafted for. Kelly is about as sure-handed as they come at the running back position and does similar things that Christian McCaffrey does as a receiver. He’s got this slight hop as the ball approaches that suspends him in the air for a second in order to concentrate on the ball coming in. Again, this is something that McCaffrey continually does. The fact that Kelly knows how to leverage his height and weight also helps in pass-blocking. There are no concerns to this part of his game.

Balance: 3.0 out of 5 stars
Going back to the elusiveness of Kelly, he’s not going to cut on a dime without losing his balance, but he does know how to get low in his approach, making him a much smaller target for the defender. Considering he’s just 5-foot-10, he becomes a tough tackle. Doesn’t have the plant-and-go ability, but also doesn’t require massive deceleration when making a move to cut up the field. He’s slightly above average in this category.

Potential Landing Spot
He’s not going to land a starting job right away and the best he can hope for is a timeshare similar to the one McCaffrey was in last year, though even that is a stretch. Ideally, Kelly is a third-down back who can mix in on the first two downs if needed. Because of that, the Rams should take a long, hard look at him. They have no backup plan to Todd Gurley, and Kelly could provide some much-needed rest for the star running back. The Dolphins also wouldn’t be a bad landing spot, as he’d compliment Kenyan Drake pretty well.

NFL Comparison
While watching Kelly, I’m reminded of Duke Johnson. Someone who can do more than just catch passes out of the backfield, but also one that you ideally wouldn’t have carrying the ball 15 times per game. Johnson is just one inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter than Kelly, though he offers more explosion than Kelly does. But that’s what you should hope for with Kelly, a timeshare running back who offers viability in PPR formats.

Don’t miss the other Scouting Profiles on top prospects below:
Saquon Barkley (RB – Penn State)
Derrius Guice (RB – LSU)
Ronald Jones (RB – USC)
Sony Michel (RB – Georgia)
Nick Chubb (RB – Georgia)
Royce Freeman (RB – Oregon)
Rashaad Penny (RB – San Diego State)
Kerryon Johnson (RB – Auburn)

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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