[#FilmWithFive] Prospect Preview: RB John Kelly

I’ve shared my love for John Kelly for a few months now. I’m transparent with my pals, and I can safely admit I have a crush.

I talked him up here.

I gushed about him over here.

Despite being so drawn to John Kelly’s style of play, he’s not who I had queued up first for you guys. He’s not the first back that I put under the microscope this offseason.

I wrote about Derrius Guice back in July, who deserves your attention for obvious reasons (or rather, reason’s that become very obvious once you throw on his #tape). He’s the RB2.

Those who have been following for a little bit now know that I 1) tend to prioritize running back’s first (when it comes to player evaluation) and 2) have been banging the table for an early-round running back selection for Oakland for what feels like forever now.

And while we’re on the topic, I think it makes a lot of sense for the Raiders to move on from Marshawn Lynch this offseason. We know he’s not quite the same impact player that he once was, but he’s certainly not “bad”, either. It’s just, Oakland missed out on an excellent 2017 running back class. I cannot imagine making the same mistake two years in a row.

Anyway, I thought I had one for you guys. I really did. A (running back) prospect, realistically, that we could all agree on. Damien Harris caught my attention, and he was the option for Oakland I wanted to share with you all before any other player.

Well, after Derrius Guice, but even before name’s like John Kelly.

Then he (Harris) went back to school, and the dream was deferred for another year.

I firmly believe that “everything happens for a reason”, and that’s what this feels like. With Harris’s decision to return to school, we’ve got Kelly getting all the shine he rightfully deserves.

In a loaded class, and as of this writing, John Kelly is my RB4.

There’s been some rumblings about Raiders’ head coach Jon Gruden “finding his Charlie Garner“. We could be looking at that player in Tennessee’s own John Kelly.

Game’s watched: vs. Florida (2017), vs. Georgia (2017), vs. Georgia Tech (2017), vs. Massachusetts (2017)


Leaving the obvious Reggie McKenzie/Tennessee narrative aside (which I’m absolutely going to talk myself into; this year, and for this prospect, in particular), one of the more important traits for a Jon Gruden running back are the paws.

In 2001, for Oakland, Charlie Garner had 91 targets which he turned into 72-578-2. For comparison’s sake, in 2017, rookie running back Christian McCaffrey parlayed 113 targets into 80 catches, for over 600 yards, and 5 scores.

Pass-catching running back’s are invaluable, and even more so in today’s NFL.

Now, John Kelly’s 37 receptions in 2017 aren’t quite Saquon Barkley’s 54 (worth noting that that 37 for the former was through 11 games), but the point remains: Kelly has some mittens. We like back’s that can catch as well as they can run.

He’s going to show off a little in this first clip. Hands-catch, and then gobbles-up YAC afterward:

Look at the subtle little move after the release to freeze the defender. More YAC (and I cut the clip, but he fumbles at the end, but everything leading up to that was absolutely gorgeous):

Tough ball here (thrown high), but Kelly does a good job to bring it down (more of those natural paws).

Lowers the shoulder to finish things off:


I realize I just told y’all how I’d move on from Marshawn Lynch this offseason, and now here I am bringing him up again.

Hear me out:

Lynch is not my comparison for Kelly, but there is definitely one aspect of the Volunteer’s game where we can draw the obvious parallel.

John Kelly, simply put, hates to be tackled.

He’ll let you know about it, too. It’s normally the stiff-arm, but he has no problem running over you, or through you. He invites contact. He enjoys contact, and those extra, tough yards. John Kelly consistently falls forward. All of that anger, and what feels like 6’1″, 225-plus, packed in a 5’9″, 200 pound frame (according to NFL Draft Scout, pre-Combine).

This one run might really embody John Kelly, for me. Navigates around the line of scrimmage with adequate vision, hitting the hole, and then immediately hits the jets and starts scooting. Needs five, gets five, and he’s looking at linebackers at the second level quickly. Subtly in the open field; shows off the balance, working out of the weak diving tackle attempt, and then he punches it in for six.

The “Gator chomp” at the end is obviously the cherry on top. Warms my heart.

More of the same. He kinda ate vs. Florida. Little burst through traffic and then he’s off and looking for contact at the end. John Kelly wants you to feel him.

All hyperbole aside, you can probably find one of these runs per game. I said it earlier, but I’ll mention it again: John Kelly just hates being tackled. This type of “swagger” is infectious, pardon the cliché:


Balance is a critical trait when it comes to running backs (in fact, it comes down to balance, vision, and burst for a majority of scouts, per draft analyst Dane Brugler).

We only have to look back to last offseason. Alvin Kamara had the best balance in the class, and some of the best balance I had seen from a back in some time. Kareem Hunt wasn’t too far behind. This is a crucial skill, and one that obviously translates to the next level.

John Kelly has a compact, muscular build. Sure, you wish he was bigger than his current list-size and weight, but he makes it work for him, and then some. His stocky frames allows him to run low, and keep his feet up under him more often than not. Rarely does Kelly go down on first contact.

This might be peak-Kelly when it comes to the footwork. We get two jump-cuts here. Again, it’s nothing redefining or jaw-dropping, but he’s obviously able to get himself outside and work in some tight spaces. This all works on Sunday’s:

A little more mess at the line of scrimmage this time. We see the same ability to kick things outside and this time, and some more of that nastiness at the end; keeping the chains moving.

Couple of defenders:

Staying upright through the arm tackle attempt, goes on to finish the run by casually throwing 3 in blue to the ground. One of my favorite runs:

Areas to improve, and final thoughts/projections:

John Kelly, like most 200-something pound running backs, is going to be dinged on his build alone. Whether that’s fair or not isn’t really the point. There are questions that surround those “types” of backs each and every offseason simply because historically, we don’t often see too many “smaller runners” find either long-term work or success in the league.

It all comes back to the “big question” in general with running backs (and especially backs you’d consider taking in Day 1 or 2 of the draft):

Can he be a three-down factor? Can he be the bell cow?

I’m clearly higher on John Kelly, compared to the consensus at the moment, so I’d be inclined to answer “yes” to both of those questions.

Reality is, I don’t believe that’ll be the perception for the majority. With all that said, I think John Kelly could thrive in a Dion Lewis-type role. Call him the lead-back of a committee. He checks plenty of important boxes on paper.

I have also noted concern with his long speed, as he’s not some sort of 4.3 or 4.4 burner-type back. The forty at Indianapolis is going to be very important for him, and could be the difference between a third round selection, or something in the fifth and beyond, perhaps.

For me, at the end of the day, John Kelly is one of my favorite players in the 2018 class. I think his fit with Oakland is obvious, and the ability to pull him off the board in the third or fourth round (or later) only adds to his value.

I’m all-in.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive


3 thoughts on “[#FilmWithFive] Prospect Preview: RB John Kelly

  1. Ted I’m blown away by the articles keep them coming! Who is your favorite free agent wrs we should pick up? I would keep Crabtree on a restructured deal also.

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