Life moves fast.
Normally, when I say such things it means I'm about to go into a really deep discussion about how quickly our children grow up, how rapidly circumstances around us change, and how fleeting good times really are. I would wax eloquent about the value of cherishing the time we have, as it really is the most valuable thing we will ever possess.
Right now, though, I just mean, I can't believe the draft is happening in less than a week. I know, a lot less philosophical. BUT ... just as true.
Given the multiple distractions I've had as of late, I've been unable to view remotely as many prospects as I would like. I've only recently begun the process of trying to find some draft crushes to obsess over (thus setting myself up for the inevitable crushing disappointment when the Chiefs don't take the exact player I want).
Only for some reason, this year I'm having a difficult time finding anyone who is really impressive. I don't know if it's because I spent a lot more time reviewing professional players' film this last season, or if I've simply become a harsher critic in my old age, but I'm just not getting wowed.
At least I wasn't until I watched Ryan Kelly.
If you don't know who Kelly is, he played center for Alabama. He stands 6'4 and weighed 311 pounds at the combine. And, considering he's coming from a team that has run all over people in recent years, he's a heckuva player.
Now, Draft Breakdown has two official Ryan Kelly videos you can watch (here), but if we use a little creativity we can see a TON more of Kelly. Alabama RB Derrick Henry, Kelly's RB, has six additional 2015 games available via Draft Breakdown and wouldn't you know it, Kelly is in those too! Click here for said video list.
Now let's get something straight immediately; I am NOT on the let's move Mitch Morse to guard bandwagon. As I wrote when I reviewed every snap of Morse's 2015 season, he's an absolute stud. There is no reason to take a player who was wildly successful as a rookie (much more so than the vast majority of high draft picks) and move him away from where he did so well, HOPING it'll translate. There just isn't.
So everything I'm about to say, take it within the context of this; if the Chiefs were to draft Kelly, I would be in favor of moving him to guard. I could be wrong, but I believe it would be easier to groom a guy to play guard from day one (much like they drafted Morse and groomed him to play center from day one) than to try and switch up a guy with a year in the system. Especially a guy who has shown such a knack for the position he's already at.
So there's my disclaimer. Now, let's talk about Ryan Kelly's film.
Shortest review ever, amirite? Who's hungry? OK, fine, I'll elaborate.
Let's start with the fact that Kelly possesses a great deal of athleticism.
Kelly moves very well, gets to the second level or down the line of scrimmage quickly. Quick feet for a big guy. pic.twitter.com/AeGkuIQqfS— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 25, 2016
In this play, you can see Kelly's athletic ability in action. He gets to the second level extremely quickly and is engaging the linebacker (who seems surprised at how fast an OL got him) almost immediately after the snap.
Kelly operated in a system at Alabama where he wasn't asked to do a ton of pulling and getting out into space. Alabama's style of running the ball was more often "we are going to go right over your face." That said, any time he was asked to move in space he had very quick feet and looked comfortable on the move. I would say he needs to refine his ability to to latch on in space (which is a tough thing to do with agile linebackers and secondary players when you're hardly ever asked to do it), but he is clearly a plus athlete.
What sets Kelly apart from other plus athletes on the interior of the line, though, is the fact that he can also more than hold his own as a power player. When I wrote about Morse, I discussed that he has adequate strength to hold up at the line of scrimmage to go along with his ace athleticism. Kelly is much the same, but a little less athletic and (at least by all appearances) quite a bit more bullish.
I love Ryan Kelly's tape. Rare combo of athleticism and strength. Creates a massive lane for Henry 1-on-1 here. pic.twitter.com/iwT6cHBCTo— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 25, 2016
Here, Kelly is asked to take on a defensive lineman one on one and prevent him from closing the path for Henry. He does that and then some, stopping the pushing lineman in his tracks and then shoving him several yards back and to the side. Because of this, Henry has a virtual highway to run through.
This was not a one time incident, either. Kelly was consistently able to win at the line of scrimmage in situations where he was asked to go against a defensive lineman on his own. He was able to hold the biggest DTs he faced to a standstill consistently, and quite often drove guys back. He's got that "push" people whisper about when they talk about offensive lineman.
He's aggressive about it, too. More than once I saw Kelly do everything he could to plant a defender, or giving him an extra shove JUST outside the whistle. He applies that aggressive nature to double teams as well. He seems to delight in driving defenders back ten yards when he's given the opportunity. I discussed this when I wrote about Jah Reid. I don't want an interior lineman who is happy beating defenders. I want him to BURY them. And Kelly does just that.
Kelly's strength shows up in pass protection as well.
Kelly handles bull rushes so well. Keeps his balance, good feet and hands, anchors well, no leaning, stops 'em dead. pic.twitter.com/waaGQhPuUq— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 25, 2016
Here, Kelly is asked to hold off a DT with no help whatsoever. A lot of centers tend to struggle in this situation. Really, even good centers tend to stalemate when asked to match up against larger tackles on their own (Morse, for example, makes his living by being just strong enough to redirect them, not by really winning).
Kelly? He just out-mans the guy. Being able to hold interior rushers at bay like that leads to a consistent pocket for quarterbacks, which is... uh, pretty important (#analysis).
Kelly also seems to have a good grasp on the intricacies of playing offensive line. His footwork and hand placement are consistently good, he doesn't get caught leaning, he's got a really solid punch that he uses often and effectively, he picks up blitzes and stunts consistently ... he has clearly been well coached at Alabama (hardly the most shocking thing I've ever written).
If I were to name off weak spots in Kelly's game, I genuinely could not say he's got one. That's what you get with a center projected to be a potential first round pick. The worst aspect of his game is locating defenders in space. At times he'll overrun guys and fail to get a hat on someone. Again, though, this was not something he asked to do very often, and could well just be a matter of rust.
I've watched plenty of interior lineman coming into the league where people are calling them the next big thing, and I don't know that any of them have impressed me the way Kelly does. It's impossible to tell, but he legitimately looks ready to step in and start from day one. Where a lot of athletic specimen fail early in the NFL is with technique or the mental aspects of the game. Those are the guys who have dominated with pure physicality and got away with being slopping. Kelly has good physical traits, but his technique is on point. I don't think it'll take him long to catch on.
I have no idea if Kelly will fall in the draft (considering the low value GMs place on interior linemen, he could well drop quite a ways), but if the Chiefs called his name I would not be at all upset. You can draft him, tell him he's playing guard from day one, and now have the makings of a young and excellent offensive line.
I have yet to be terribly impressed with any other player I've watched this year (outside of Sterling Shepard, who may be a steal), so I'd be all on board with snagging Kelly in the first. He's definitely my first real draft crush of 2016.