The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece is on Tennessee running back John Kelly, who has declared early for the draft. For the total list of all players leaving school early, see our underclassmen tracker.
For more on all the other backs in the class, see our 2018 NFL draft running back rankings.
Updated as of Mar. 4.
Junior | 5’10″ and 216 Pounds | Born October 4, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 4-5
Combine numbers: 40-yard: DNP | bench reps: 15 | 3-cone: 7.13 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.51 sec | vertical: 35 in | broad: 120 in
Kelly is just one in a line of productive backs to play for the Volunteers over the last decade.
- Arian Foster: 1,533 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2007
- Montario Hardesty: 1,647 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2009
- Tauren Poole: 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010
- Rajion Neal: 1,232 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013
- Jalen Hurd: 1,475 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015
- Alvin Kamara: 988 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016
As a true freshman, Kelly was a depth player behind Hurd and Kamara, totaling just 165 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries and earning the majority of his touches in the second half of blowout victories. As a sophomore Kelly still played behind Hurd and Kamara, finishing with just 98 carries, but Hurd had a subpar season that ended with his departure from the team, and Kamara missed a couple of games to injury and was emphasized more in the passing than the running game, so Kelly finished second on the team (behind quarterback Joshua Dobbs) with 630 yards rushing.
In 2017 with Hurd at Baylor and Kamara in the NFL, Kelly stepped up as the lead back and turned 189 rushes and 37 receptions into 1,077 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games, even in the midst of a subpar 4-8 season that saw longtime head coach Butch Jones fired before the end of the campaign. Kelly’s work in the receiving game was particularly impressive: He’s not as dynamic as Kamara, but he did finish 11th in receptions among all Football Bowl Subdivision backs.
While Kelly is talented, he also has some question marks. He never had even 200 carries or 1,000 yards rushing in a college season, he skipped the 40-yard dash at the combine and didn’t exhibit great athleticism in the drills he did run, and last year in the middle of the season he was suspended for a game because of a marijuana possession citation. A three-star recruit as a high-school student, Kelly looks like a Day 3 selection with the ability to emerge as a committee back.
Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports