Mr. Irrelevant: Denver Broncos take former Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly with final pick in NFL Draft

Published 5:53 pm Saturday, April 29, 2017

Chad Kelly said leading up to the NFL Draft he just wanted an opportunity at the next level, and the Denver Broncos gave him one he won’t ever forget.

The former Ole Miss quarterback, whose missteps off the field were dissected just as much as his performance on it, is this year’s Mr. Irrelevant, the famous title given to the last pick in the draft each year. Kelly was the 253rd and final selection by the Broncos on Saturday.

Kelly is the first Ole Miss quarterback drafted since Eli Manning in 2004. He needed just 22 games to break some of Manning’s records — Kelly set 25 school records, including the most 300-yard passing games in a career (12) — as he accounted for 7,632 total yards and 65 touchdowns in two seasons at Ole Miss.

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But Kelly’s well-documented baggage made Oxford the third stop of his collegiate career, one of the reasons some analysts were left wondering if the strong-armed nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly would be drafted at all. The bad attitude that led to his dismissal from Clemson in 2014. A scuffle with police that led to an arrest shortly after he signed with Ole Miss out of East Mississippi Community College. A photo that surfaced on the Internet just six months ago that appeared to show Kelly rolling a blunt.

“Every decision and everything you do is going to be put under a microscope, and one bad thing can blow up just like that,” Kelly said after Ole Miss’ pro day earlier this month. “I’ve just got to be smart with everything I do. Of course the past is going to come up (when talking to teams).”

ESPN analyst Todd McShay said Kelly would’ve been an early-round pick without all the issues.

“He’s talented enough to play in the NFL,” McShay said. “He’s just got to get it mentally.”

Kelly, who turned 23 earlier this month, said he’s got to be “a more mature person” going forward, even admitting his 16-year-old brother, Casey, has been better than him in that department at times, but durability concerns also gave teams pause.

Kelly has suffered two torn ACLs, the second one ending his college career with three games left in his senior season. With his past transgressions reportedly keeping him from being invited to the scouting combine in February, Ole Miss’ pro day was Kelly’s lone chance to throw in front of NFL personnel before the draft, but his workout was cut short because of a ruptured ligament in his throwing wrist that required surgery.

“There’s a number of different reasons as to why he slid down the draft board,” said fellow ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a former NFL scout. “But hey, he got drafted. He has a team now. It’s all looking forward now for Chad Kelly, so hopefully he takes advantage of the opportunity.”

All the red flags added up to late-round or free-agent projections for Kelly in most mock drafts. ESPN ranked Kelly as the No. 328 prospect heading into the draft, but the Broncos, run by general manager and Hall of Famer John Elway, ultimately couldn’t ignore his arm talent.

Kelly directed the Southeastern Conference’s top passing offense the last two seasons, throwing for 6,800 yards and 50 touchdowns with 21 interceptions. A Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist before his knee injury, Kelly averaged 13.5 yards per completion at Ole Miss with nearly 22 percent of them (108 of 503) covering at least 20 yards.

It’s part of the whole package Kelly is thankful the Broncos have decided to take on.

“You’re getting a great leader, a hard worker and a guy that doesn’t ever give up no matter what the situation is,” he said. “Not only that, you’re getting a guy that has an arm that can throw it all over the field no matter what it is. At the end of the day, I just want to show them that I’m a mature quarterback that can lead a franchise.”