TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — While many expected one of Alabama’s defenders to be the first off the board, it was center Ryan Kelly who wound up being the first Crimson Tide player selected in the first round of the draft on Thursday.
Kelly didn’t attend the draft, but ESPN showed a video of him celebrating with his family.
Kelly was a three-year starter at Alabama. He won the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center following his senior year while helping Alabama to its fifth national championship in seven seasons.
Prior to tonight, Alabama had 17 players taken in the first round of the draft since 2008, which is the most during that span. Kelly became the 18th player taken in the first round during Nick Saban’s tenure.
Read what the analysts thought of Kelly below.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) April 29, 2016
NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks
Ryan Kelly is the best interior blocker in this draft class. He should solidify the middle of the offensive line for the Colts. You usually don’t take a center in this early, but he is so good, and there’s such a disparity between him and the next guy. He can hold the position for the next 10 years.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr.
He can (play both center and guard). That versatility is a big plus. I thought he’d go in this range. He’s a guy, you talk about what this could mean for (Colts quarterback) Andrew Luck having an outstanding anchor. You say he plays a little high or has leverage issues, but when he was out — he got hurt against Ole Miss two years ago — that Alabama offense struggled. He’s a leader. He’s an anchor. In pass protection, great technique and footwork. Everything’s in place for Ryan Kelly to be a very good NFL starter.
4.0 (grade point average) in a master’s program at Alabama. He’s an incredibly smart kid. He’s a plug-and-play starting center immediately in the NFL.
ESPN’s Jon Gruden
Andrew Luck needs a center. That position has been a turnstyle in Indianapolis. This man (Kelly) has an 80-inch wing span. He has position versatility. He can pull, he’s tough, he’s smart, he’s a great communicator and he can handle a nose tackle in one-on-one pass protection. I’ve seen him make some incredible reach blocks. The running back (Derrick Henry) ran for 2,000 yards and a lot of it was because of the center, Ryan Kelly. The Indianapolis Colts got a lot better with this selection.
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) April 29, 2016