If one were only watching the highlights or reading the box score, it would be easy to argue that Mississippi senior quarterback Chad Kelly had the game of his life against No. 1 Alabama and that his NFL Draft stock should be soaring after throwing for 421 yards and three touchdowns to nearly upset the defending champions.
In fact, the opposite might be the case for the only senior quarterback currently projected as a first-round pick.
Kelly’s toughness, athleticism and arm talent were all evident in a wild 48-43 loss to Alabama but so too were his flaws, including a lack of pocket awareness that should leave NFL teams considering using a high pick on him nervous.
While Kelly certainly was not helped by a leaky offensive line that struggled to handle Alabama’s front, he failed to protect the ball adequately, surrendering 14 points to the Tide on touchdowns scored off a fumble he lost just outside of his own end zone and an interception in which his arm was hit as he attempted to throw the ball.
In both cases, Kelly showed a lack of ideal spatial awareness for the position and the mental clock in the pocket that might most resemble a sundial. Unfortunately for Kelly, this is an area in which he has struggled throughout his career, developing a reputation as a gunslinger willing to take unnecessary chances.
While scouts will undoubtedly be concerned about the lack of improvement in this area, there is no denying that Kelly possesses some exciting physical traits, including some of those which helped his uncle, Jim, become a Hall of Fame passer in Buffalo.
Put simply, Kelly made some beautiful throws in this contest. Willing the Rebels, at times, Kelly alternately showed the touch to drop bucket throws over the top, as well as the velocity and anticipation for timing routes over the middle and to the perimeter.
Ironically, Kelly’s flashiest throw of the day was the one that came up a few inches of being a touchdown — and ultimately led to a controversial third-quarter field goal — rather than the 63-yard scoring strike he’d tossed a quarter earlier.
The play — a 32-yard strike to wideout Damore’ea Stringfellow — came midway through the third quarter with the Rebels attempting to regain momentum after surrendering a 24-3 lead. After firing several quick perimeter throws to march Mississippi down the field, Kelly showed off his touch on the deep ball, slipping the pass between two Alabama defensive backs and nearly leading Stringfellow into the end zone.
The play, in fact, was initially ruled a touchdown before replay showed that Stringfellow’s knee touched with the ball short of the goal line. Three consecutive runs later — including a passionate scramble from Kelly on 3rd down in which he bulldozed multiple Alabama defenders to nearly score — and the Rebels were forced to kick a game-tying field goal, instead.
A quarter earlier, Kelly showed similar accuracy on a deep ball to Evan Engram, hitting his tight end perfectly in stride to give the Rebels an early 17-3 lead. This pass, while not as difficult a throw as the one to Stringfellow, was notable in that it came off play-action and demonstrated Kelly’s toughness.
Kelly took the snap out of shotgun and faked a flip to his running back, drawing two Alabama defensive backs toward the line of scrimmage and leaving Engram wide-open. While this was a case of the Tide’s secondary overreacting to play action, this is also an example of the opportunities created downfield in the passing game due to the threat of Kelly’s athleticism.
Throughout this contest Kelly showed off his grit, routinely running through would-be tacklers to pick up extra yardage and tossing the touchdown to Engram one play after absorbing a late hit that earned Alabama a personal foul.
Even as the Tide turned and Alabama seized momentum in the second half, it was gutty plays from Kelly in the passing game that kept the Rebels competitive, answering ‘Bama’s big plays with strikes of his own.
Scouts were hoping to see more of the “good Kelly” and less of the bad in this battle against ‘Bama, as this year’s quarterback class looks wide open. While Kelly remains well ahead of Iowa‘s C.J. Beathard among seniors on NFLDraftScout.com’s board, Clemson junior Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame redshirt sophomore DeShone Kizer have each shown greater poise in the pocket to this point in their respective careers.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Mistakes doom Mississippi and leave Chad Kelly’s NFL Draft stock sliding