In hindsight, Chad Kelly should have left Ole Miss early for the NFL Draft

Oct 22, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly (10) throws against the LSU Tigers during the second half of a game at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Mississippi 38-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Hindsight is always 20/20. As such, former Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly probably wishes he could make his draft decision all over again.

It has been widely reported that Kelly had his invitation to next month’s Scouting Combine rescinded by the NFL. There will be 15 QBs on hand for the event, but the one-time Rebel won’t be there despite being a better prospect than most of them.

For Kelly, it’s the latest blow to a football career that has experienced more ups and downs than your average roller coaster. His path to the pros just got that much harder, as the combine is any player’s best opportunity — be it a potential first-round pick or possible undrafted free agent — to “interview” with all 32 organizations at once.

Had Kelly made himself eligible for the draft following his junior campaign, he’d have been in a much better spot than he is now.

A year ago, Kelly was coming off a record-setting season in Oxford. He became just the third signal caller in SEC history to throw for 4,000 yards, plus his 31 touchdowns through the air tied a team record set by Eli Manning.

Mississippi won 10 games for the first time since 2003 — when the aforementioned Manning was at the controls — and also walked off the field victorious in the Sugar Bowl, which hadn’t happened since Richard Nixon was in office. With Kelly deciding to return for his senior year, the Rebs were legit contenders in 2016.

Instead, Kelly and Co. crashed and burned to a 5-7 finish and were one of only two programs in the conference to not go bowling.

Kelly’s touchdown-to-interception ratio was about the same. His completion percentage dipped from 65.1 to 62.5. His passer efficiency rating also took a hit, down to 147.4 from 155.9. He wasn’t as effective as a rusher, either.

Nov 5, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly (10) is hurried by Georgia Southern Eagles linebacker Ukeme Eligwe (7) during the first half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Worst of all, he tore his ACL in the Georgia Southern game — his first win in a month following a three-game losing streak — and was shelved for the rest of the season. In the eyes of NFL scouts, not only did he fail to improve from junior year to senior year, but now a significant knee injury limited Kelly in the draft evaluation process.

While he was indeed invited to the Senior Bowl in January, Kelly wasn’t healthy enough to practice or participate in the game.

His combine snub is the latest blow in what not too long ago appeared to be a budding future as a professional passer. After all, as the nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, he had something not a lot of young field generals do: pedigree.

However, in the wake of the Ray Rice situation and countless other PR disasters of recent vintage, the NFL is taking its personal conduct policy more seriously than ever. Kelly — from his start at Clemson to his stint in junior college to his run at Ole Miss — has made a handful of dubious decisions off the field.

He’ll be lumped in with Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon and one of his old receivers with the Rebels, Damore’ea Stringfellow.

Neither Mixon nor Stringfellow will be in Indianapolis either, albeit for much different reasons. Both have episodes of violence against women on their records. The NFL is now barring players with such convictions from the proceedings.

Kelly got himself kicked off Clemson’s team by coach Dabo Swinney — he did just fine with Deshaun Watson, of course — for an outburst at practice. There was also an incident in a Buffalo nightclub, where he allegedly threatened gun violence. Various other indiscretions of a serious and not-so-serious nature populate his profile.

His crimes aren’t as egregious as Mixon’s or Stringfellow’s, particularly Mixon’s, but that’s who Kelly is associated with now.

Had he left coach Hugh Freeze’s offense a season early and entered last year’s draft, Kelly likely would’ve been a mid-round choice. Remember, former Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott went in Round 4 to the Dallas Cowboys.

Sep 17, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly (10) attempts to avoid Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson (54) during the second quarter of the game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

If anything, going back to college has hurt Kelly’s draft stock. On the field, he was essentially the same player: prolific at times, erratic at others, turnover-prone too often. Off the field, the rumors of his maturation as a man appear to have been exaggerated. That’ll give any club more pause than those 3 INTs vs. Florida State.

According to the draftniks at CBSSports.com, Kelly is only being given a sixth-round grade. It’s possible he goes undrafted altogether.

Mixon, on the other hand, has a third-round grade and probably won’t escape Round 2. Stringfellow is only pegged for Round 7, maybe even undrafted-free-agent status, but he’ll surely get a shot on Sunday somewhere.

It’s much easier for a club to roll the dice — the owner usually has final say on such matters — on a tailback or a wideout with character concerns. First, they’re typically not the face of a franchise. Second, there’s never a shortage of ball carriers or pass catchers in the draft. If one doesn’t work out, go find another one.

That’s not the case at the game’s most important position, though. No one dictates success or failure more than whomever is taking snaps.

Look no further than the most recently played Super Bowl. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons are as squeaky clean as they come. The majority of the top passers in the league are.

As he was hoisting that Sugar Bowl trophy two Januarys ago, the Kelly conversation revolved around how he had finally cashed in on all of his physical gifts. There was even hope that he had outgrown his immature past — that’s not the case these days. His inconsistent play is being nitpicked as much as his suspicious personality.

Basketball players leave school for the NBA as quickly as possible. They don’t want warts exposed in college. Kelly should’ve done the same.


John Crist is the senior writer for Saturday Down South, a member of the FWAA and a voter for the Heisman Trophy. Send him an e-mail, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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COMMENTS

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  • I would say no because watching him play was the only bright spot for me this past season. since he got injured in the GA southern game I would have to agree he would have been a 4th to 5th rounder last year nevertheless he’ll get a shot somewhere in the NFL.

  • Hindsight is useless. Every sportswriter in the country said he had to come back to repair his image and have a shot at getting drafted. Now it’s a different story.

    • That’s only partially true. I asked Mel Kiper Jr. about Kelly last year at the Scouting Combine. He had Kelly as a fourth-rounder or so at the time. You’re correct that pretty much everybody suggested he go back to school to help put some distance between him and the off-the-field stuff. It appears he did more harm than good, though. Plus, there wasn’t any improvement in the on-the-field product. That’s all independent of the ACL, too.

  • Eh, it’s not as big a deal as people make it out to be. A lot of guys skip the combine and do their workouts (read interview) at their schools pro day. Some are injured and can’t go while others want to work on their technique, lose/gain weight or just get a step faster.

    Skipping the combine isn’t a big deal. His biggest problem are the “reasons” they snubbed him. If it’s no more than we already know, and he has a good pro day, he’ll get drafted. If it’s a “great” pro day, he’ll get drafted early. Talent usually negates minor flaws and he only needs ONE tm to like him. Only way he goes undrafted is if the NFL has more bad info or he sucks at his pro day.

  • I’d take him in the 6th or 7th, character issues be damned. Worth a shot.

  • Pats will select him in the final round and let him ride the pine for a year and then sell him for a 3rd round pick in next years draft.

  • The kid was overrated, especially in his own mind.

  • Out of all the writers on here I think J. Crist’s are the best written and ones I actually read through out. Keep it up. As an OM fan I liked Kelly but think if you are given a second chance like he had he should’ve kept his nose outta trouble but I do thank him for beating the bamtards. 6th round pick.