How a phone call convinced John Elway to draft former Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly

Published 6:00 am Monday, May 1, 2017

Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph called Chad Kelly his favorite quarterback in the NFL Draft, but general manager John Elway still needed some last-minute reassurance if the Broncos were going to invest the draft’s final pick in Ole Miss’ former quarterback.

That’s when one Hall of Famer decided to call another — Kelly’s uncle, Jim Kelly.

“I called his uncle, and he said, ‘He’s a good kid,’” Elway told reporters in Denver. “I said, ‘OK, that’s all I need.’ I trust Jim with that.”

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So the Broncos rounded out the three-day draft Saturday by taking Kelly, this year’s Mr. Irrelevant who hopes to be anything but at the next level. The well-documented off-field missteps that had Kelly admitting leading up to the draft that he’s “got to be a more mature person” as well as injury concerns sent Kelly plummeting down teams’ draft boards, but there’s little doubt about the strong-armed quarterback’s talent.

Kelly accounted for 7,632 total yards and 65 touchdowns in just two seasons at Ole Miss with 6,800 of those yards and 50 touchdowns coming through the air. He averaged 309.1 passing yards a game, directing the Southeastern Conference’s top passing offense each year before a torn ACL and lateral meniscus nine games into his senior season ended his collegiate career.

Kelly set 25 school records before he was done and went 14-8 in 22 starts, including a 7-6 record against SEC teams.

“He beat ‘Bama twice, and that’s tough to do as a college quarterback,” Joseph said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s smart. He’s made some childish mistakes in the past, but he’s learned from those things. I’m comfortable with him.”

Kelly actually went 1-1 against the Crimson Tide but played well enough to win both, torching Nick Saban’s defense for a combined 762 passing yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions the last two seasons. Playing his best against that caliber of competition also drew the Broncos to Kelly, who in 2015 became the first Ole Miss quarterback to beat Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State in the same season and accounted for 468 total yards and six scores in the Rebels’ one-point overtime loss to Arkansas that same season.

“The one thing about him is he’s a great competitor, and that’s what we’re really excited about,” Elway said. “He makes a lot of plays and takes some chances, but he’s a great competitor. He’s got great lineage.”

Incumbent starter Trevor Siemian and last year’s first-round pick, Paxton Lynch, are the only other quarterbacks on the Broncos’ roster as of now, though how much Kelly can push them as a rookie remains to be seen. Kelly is past the knee injury but recently had surgery on a ruptured ligament in his throwing wrist and won’t be able to throw again until sometime this summer.

But Kelly has his chance.

“I think obviously there’s been some history there, but we felt comfortable that Chad understands what he’s been through, is ready to take this step and realizes the step that he’s taking, it’s different than it was when he was in college,” Elway said. “We have full confidence that Chad’s going to be able to come up here and understand the situation he’s in.”