According to USA Today Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar, the Indianapolis Colts’ most underrated player is starting center Ryan Kelly among each NFL team’s choice:
Indianapolis Colts: C Ryan Kelly
Only 26 college centers have been selected in the first round of any NFL draft since 1970, and only four have been taken higher than Kelly out of Alabama in the 2016 draft — 18th overall. When healthy, Kelly has been as sure a pick as there’s been in recent years. Though his position is generally undervalued, Kelly has allowed just two total sacks in 3,398 career snaps, and he’s one of the league’s stronger and more mobile run-blockers at his position. Kelly missed a total of 13 games due to injury in 2017 and 2018, but he came back strong in 2019 with a full 16-game season, and just one sack and 21 total pressures allowed.
While Kelly was named a Pro Bowler for the first time this past season, he’s still not necessarily a household name, and he gets left out far too frequently in ‘Top 5 centers in the league’ conversations—where he should now be a mainstay.
Originally the 18th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Colts, the former highly touted Alabama Crimson Tide center has been an anchor for the middle of Indianapolis’ offensive line—on what’s become one of the league’s best and most improved units over the past two seasons—at least partially because of his stalwart play.
Kelly battled some injuries early on in his professional career—which limited him initially, but he’s started 28 of 32 games over the past two seasons—including all 16 games during an impressive breakout 2019 campaign:
“Really proud of Ryan Kelly,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard stated during his end of year press conference. “16 weeks, fought through [injuries]. Tremendous leader. Is really starting to understand about the group and bringing the group together, the o-line, and being the leader of the group. And fun to watch his growth.”
Reich said when he was hired, he knew center Ryan Kelly needed to be a key piece, but, “I didn’t realize how much of an Alpha Dog he is. … This guy has taken complete control of the offensive line room as far as the calls … he’s a really, really smart football player."— Andrew Walker (@AWalkerColts) May 18, 2020
The 6’4”, 307 pound center is smart, tough, strong, mobile, and athletic—pretty much the ideal prototype that any NFL general manager would want at center (hence why he was formerly a rare first round pick at center by the Colts).
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription), the 27 year old was their 8th best rated center last season with a +73.0 grade overall. He allowed just a sack and 21 total QB pressures in 591 pass blocking snaps—while committing 6 penalties overall.
Kelly is deserving of such a distinction of being the ‘most underrated’ Colts player—although slot cornerback Kenny Moore also has a strong argument after he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl last season despite all-around standout play.
Set to enter the last year of his rookie contract in 2020, Kelly is the Colts’ top pending free agent that the franchise simply has to lock up long-term. He figures to get a lucrative new deal from the Colts that could make him the highest paid center in all of football.
By all indications, the Colts’ ‘most underrated player’ wants to be in Indianapolis long-term, it’s just a matter of when both sides can get it done.