TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Offensive linemen don’t often get a lot of praise, and when they do, it’s usually the left tackle being mentioned because of the position’s great importance.
But Ryan Kelly made a name for himself during his three years as a starter for Alabama en route to winning the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center.
Toward the end of the draft process, Kelly shot up mock drafts as analysts noticed his elite technique for the position and other attributes.
The mocks had it right as Kelly was the top center taken in the NFL draft, going 18th to the Indianapolis Colts in the first round Thursday night.
During the pre-draft process, Kelly let his tape speak for him. He didn’t participate in the Senior Bowl because he felt his three years of starting in the SEC was sufficient enough. He also wanted to rest coming off another postseason run in which he helped Alabama win its fourth national championship in seven years.
Kelly shined at the NFL combine in February, running the 40-yard dash in 5.03 seconds, which was the sixth-best among the 46 offensive linemen who participated. The 6-foot-4 Kelly also added some weight, checking in at 311 pounds.
Among offensive linemen, Kelly was in the top-11 in two drills that test quickness and change of direction. He finished 10th with a 4.59 20-yard shuttle and 11th in the 3-cone drill with a 7.58.
During Alabama’s pro day, Alabama coach Nick Saban spoke highly of Kelly and his talents.
“Ryan Kelly has a really good future, in my opinion, as center,” Saban said in March. “He’s very smart. He’s got quickness. He plays with enough power. He’s a good pass protector. And he’s a great person and a good leader. I think if you’re looking for a good teammate and a productive guy at his position who could be outstanding, I think he fits the bill.”
Saban said Kelly could even play some guard if necessary.
“He has played other positions here. He probably could,” Saban said. “I think diversity is important because you only have eight guys active for a game on the offensive line, so guys being able to play multiple positions is very important.”