Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly entered the 2016 season as the unquestioned top returning signal caller in the SEC, but many wondered how much he could improve his NFL draft stock in his senior season.
So far, those questions remain unanswered.
Despite the Rebels 1-2 start to the season, Kelly has not taken a hit to his draft stock. However, his play hasn’t helped him either.
“In my opinion, he’s looked about the same this year as last,” NFL.com analyst Chase Goodbread said. “I don’t know that his draft stock has been affected over the last three weeks.”
Whether it’s dropping a 32-yard pass over Damore’ea Stringfellow’s shoulder right between the Alabama cornerback and safety or holding on to the ball too long and allowing a talented pass rusher to get a sack fumble that results in a defensive touchdown, Kelly’s shown both the qualities NFL scouts love and don’t like about his game in the early going.
But when you look at the total scope of things, that’s not very surprising.
The scheme Kelly plays in gives him plenty of opportunities to put up huge numbers, but Ole Miss’ lack of a rushing attack also puts immense pressure on him to make all the explosive plays. That combination results in a quarterback trying to do too much at times, and it’s been clear so far this season.
Kelly has totaled 953 passing yards, 10 passing touchdowns and 3 interceptions in his first three games, but he also has 3 fumbles that led to 21 points for opposing teams.
With Alabama and Florida State in the rearview mirror, Kelly may not face another defense as challenging as the two he’s already seen, but you better believe avoiding those disaster plays will be a huge key for his draft stock moving forward.
“He’s got all the physical tools that scouts look for in terms of size, a strong and accurate arm,” Goodbread said. “I think the biggest thing he needs to improve on is decision-making. He forces the ball sometimes, and he doesn’t always throw the ball away when that’s the smart play.”
Kelly’s play over the rest of the season will ultimately decide how high he goes in next spring’s draft.
If Kelly can clean up the mistakes and continue to shine in Hugh Freeze’s pass-happy offense, he should put up numbers that will rival his historic 2015 season, which was second only to Johnny Manziel’s two seasons at Texas A&M, and put him into contention for a first-round draft grade. If the costly mistakes continue, he could have a difficult time getting someone to use an early round pick on him.
For now, it’s all up to Kelly, and he’ll get another big opportunity against a talented Georgia team on Saturday.