Alabama’s Ryan Kelly should hear his named called early in the NFL draft, which will be held April 28-30 in Chicago.
“Whether you’re drafted or not, where we’re going to go in the draft, no one really knows,” said Kelly, considered to be the top available center in this year’s draft class. “This is just a great opportunity, and you can only control what you can control.”
Although much of the attention leading up to the draft has fallen on two mega-deals already made at the top of the first round, Kelly ‘s sights are likely set on the back half of the first round. Seattle, which is revamping its offensive line, may be a cushy landing spot for Kelly.
“Where they are picking, down there at 26, a guy like Ryan Kelly from Alabama makes a lot of sense for them,” said ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a former NFL front office executive. “I believe he can play center or guard at a very high level. He doesn’t have a lot of flaws.”
Kelly took over for Barrett Jones in 2013 and helped pave the way for Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry, who won the Heisman last season. He also was key in pass protection and didn’t give up a sack over the past two seasons.
Some teams believe he can also play guard in the NFL.
“In high school I played center, guard and tackle,” Kelly said. “Ultimately, in college I only played center, but obviously I can play different positions, as well.”
Kelly had to deal with Alabama defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed every day in practice. Both Robinson and Reed are slated to be selected in the first round of the draft.
“Those guys are incredible,” Kelly said. “Going against those guys every day made us a better offensive line, made me a better player.”
Kelly knows that he’ll have to pay his dues in the NFL.
“I’ve always been the kind of guy that wanted to walk the walk before I talked the talk,” Kelly said. “By leading by example, I think, you can earn the trust of other people.”
Kelly is from suburban Cincinnati. He wasn’t recruited by Ohio State, but picked Alabama over Michigan, Florida, Florida State and Tennessee.
Kelly’s proud that he became a three-year starter and was part of a national championship run last season.
“I think when you’re young, especially coming into college, too, the game is so fast,” Kelly said. “You don’t have the reps, you don’t have the experience, but once you get starts underneath your belt, once you start playing in games, and realizing things, seeing things, it becomes fun.”
Kelly considers himself a student of the game.
“You get to dissect defenses and see what advantages you have that week,” Kelly said. “As a center, I think it’s even more of a crucial position because you really do control the offense, you and the quarterback. A lot of times that’s what our offense relies on is a good center, so I always felt the challenge was there (every) week.”
In the NFL, the center normally is in charge of making all of the pass-protection calls and identifying the defense for his linemates. Kelly believes he can handle those duties.
“As far as run game, all the time,” Kelly said. “I’ve been very fortunate because I got to work with a lot of great quarterbacks. A.J. McCarron taught me a lot of things when I first came in on how to work in a team. Working with the quarterback because a lot of his reads are my reads as well, and they’re all tied together. So we did a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage.”
Now, it’s just about the wait.
“Ryan Kelly’s not a name you’re hearing a lot about, but he could be the next Nick Mangold, Alex Mack,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said. “At worst a second-round pick, and I think Ryan Kelly’s going to play a long time in the NFL and anchor an offensive line for a number of years.”
This story was written and reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.