We are now in the dull period for being an NFL fan, as we enter the post-draft time period of the offseason. While most people are looking ahead to the 2019 NFL season, I decided to take a step back and really evaluate the talent on this Colts’ roster. Over the course of this offseason, I will be going back through the roster and putting together scouting reports and film rooms of some of the more unheralded players on this roster.
The next scouting report of the offseason is on starting center Ryan Kelly. Kelly was outstanding last season and was one of the main reasons why the Colts had on of the top offensive lines in the entire NFL. When healthy, he is among the best centers in all of football.
In today’s piece, I take a look at the film and provide my scouting report on the star center. I look at what makes him so good and what he can improve upon to make the next step from Pro Bowl-caliber center to All-Pro-caliber.
6’4” 311 pounds
40 Time: 5.03 / Bench Press: 26 Reps / Vertical Jump: 30 inches / Broad Jump: 103 inches / 3-Cone: 7.58 seconds
Relative Athletic Score:
My scouting reports will be in the same style/format as the Anthony Arena Draft Guide that we put together this offseason. I will be looking at how these players grade out in each trait, their best positional fit, and a two-to-three year outlook on their career.
Kelly is simply an outstanding run blocker that a creative offensive play caller like Frank Reich can utilize in so many ways. He is an outstanding athlete— which we will talk more about later— and that allows him to excel on pull and stretch plays. He is also a very intelligent player who understands how to position and move his body to allow the running back to have the most space through the hole. His technique is also excellent, he gets low and drives players out of the hole when he has a full head of steam.
Kelly put together a run blocking clinic against the Jets in week 6. Here, he is working down the line on the running back stretch play out of the gun. He is able to get down the line quickly and make contact with defensive tackle Henry Anderson while he is engaged with Quenton Nelson. He is then able to get excellent leverage on Anderson and drive him down the line, creating a giant hole for Marlon Mack to run through.
Did I mention his run blocking was great against the Jets? Well, here is another example: Kelly comes across the line on a pull here, and meets the linebacker in the hole. He gives a good shot to the backer, and is able to knock him out of position, opening up a huge hole for Mack. Kelly graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th best run blocking center in 2018 and I expect him to be even higher if he stays healthy in 2019.
Despite not being as strong of a pass blocker as he is a run blocker, Kelly does still do well in this area. He is very technically sound, and does a good job of establishing leverage early in his blocks. Once he gains that leverage, he is very sturdy and square to his defender which makes him very tough to move. He does a great job of using his athleticism to match defenders and recognizes stunts and twists very well. The areas he needs to improve, however, are anchoring better against bull rushes and not being as grabby when he gets beaten.
This is a picture-perfect pass blocking rep. He recognizes the defense slanting down, and he quickly adjusts his body so he is square to the defender. Once he does that, he engages with great technique and hand placement. From this position, he is able to guide and control the block, and keep Andrew Luck clean to deliver a big throw down the field.
This next clip is one of the most unique plays I’ve seen from a lineman. In order to disguise the play action, the Colts pull Kelly across the line on this play. In doing this, he is tasked with essentially playing tackle after starting the play at center. Kelly is athletic and fast enough to get to the edge, engage the blitzing cornerback, and put him in the ground on the play.
I’ve already mentioned this multiple times, but the biggest strength in Kelly’s game is his pure athleticism. At the combine, he measured as an outstanding athlete and graded out very well, historically. On the field, that ability shows, as he is able to make pull blocks and reach blocks with ease. He climbs to the second level as very few lineman can do and is very agile when flipping his hips.
Reich loves utilizing Kelly on pull plays. Here, he is faking the counter action with a jab step inside, before pulling around the hole to clear space for Mack. He is able to get past the second level and into the third level before he finds a player to block. He is able to reach all the way out to safety Jamal Adams and shield him off from the hole, which opens up the necessary space for Mack to get to the sideline. The ability to reach the third level that quickly and still turn his body and make a block is excellent.
On this next play, Kelly makes an even more impressive block. He is pulling to the outside, and the play design is to leave the end unblocked for the center to kick out. Just doing that would be a crazy feat in and of itself, but Kelly takes it a step further: Instead of just pulling outside and kicking the end out, he reaches the end and then twists his hips inside which gives Mack room to the outside for more yards. The agility here is what separates Kelly from many other centers in the league.
If there was one negative in Kelly’s game, it would be that he struggles with interior strength. He has great technique to counter this— which I will discuss more in the next section— but often times it is not enough to overcome getting driven back. He loses his anchor too easily in pass protection, and needs to add some strength in order to win in shorter areas of the field.
This clip shows a lot of what I see throughout his film in this area. Jonathan Hankins is one of the stronger defensive tackles in football and Kelly really struggled with him. Here, Hankins is able to drive Kelly back into the backfield and then easily stack and shed him before taking down the running back for a loss. Kelly needs to shore up this area of his game.
The primary way that Kelly counters his struggles with his strength is via technical skill. He is an intelligent player who understands how to position his body, take good angles, and win with hand placement. Kelly wins in pass protection with great technique, and he counters stronger players in the run game by getting his hands inside and driving them. Having an intelligent technician at center is always a plus for a team.
The next clip is a great example of Kelly winning with leverage and technique. He is quick off the ball and able to establish great hand position on his defender. He is then able to drive his defensive tackle backwards with that pre-established position and a good leg drive. He may struggle with strength but being a great technician is a good way to counter that.
I have raved multiple times in this piece about Kelly’s intellect. He just is so smart and nuanced on the field. He also is a good finisher, who understands how to read the field and adjust on the fly. He is a commanding presence in the middle of the line, and by all reports is a great leader and role model off of the field. Kelly checks all the boxes in this department.
This clip summarizes Kelly so well. He stays square to the middle of the line and keeps a hand on Nelson’s guy. Once he recognizes the stunt to his right, he steps in front and delivers a big hit to the twisting lineman. High-level recognition ability and the nastiness to finish the play. This is an outstanding play that summarizes this Pro Bowl caliber center.
Obviously his best fit is at center going forward. He has been a stout player there for years, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. If, however, Mark Glowinski or Quenton Nelson were to go down to injury at some point next year, I would be curious to see if they move Kelly over to guard to bring in Evan Boehm at center. It probably wouldn’t happen but I do think that he could play guard at a near-elite level as well.
The future is so bright for Kelly with the Colts. He is already a top-tier center in this league, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. If he can put together a full 16 game season and develop a bit under Howard Mudd and Chris Strausser, I think he could be the best center in the league in two to three years. The sky is the limit for Kelly, and I’m looking forward to the Colts extending him next offseason to make him part of this team for a very long time.