Chad Kelly spent the entire 2017 NFL Draft as Mr. Enigma, and on Saturday was one selection away from reprising that role as an undrafted free agent. Then, John Elway and the Denver Broncos — the quarterback-challenged Denver Broncos — made him Mr. Irrelevant.
It would be hard for anyone else from this quarterback class to match the journey Kelly has been on throughout draft season. The journey only gets even more bizarre from here. The Ole Miss quarterback with the proverbial checkered past will be the center of attention in the traditional Mr. Irrelevant festivities in Newport Beach, Calif. And being the center of attention has not always been Kelly’s strength.
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If it were, he might have finished his career at Clemson. Or finished it on a higher note at Ole Miss — even with two spectacular performances against Alabama during his time in Oxford. Or he could have become a minor reality TV star during his year at East Mississippi Community College in between (Netflix’s “Last Chance U” is worth the viewing). Or, at least, he would not have been invited to the scouting combine with no hesitation (instead, he was invited, then uninvited.)
Or, for that matter, he would have been drafted before the 253rd and final pick this weekend.
By eliminating what would have been a fascinating drama over when, or if, Kelly would be signed after the draft, Elway also added more than one unique twist. Kelly, as most know, has the bloodlines as Jim Kelly’s nephew. The Hall of Fame Bills quarterback took to Instagram two weeks before the draft to vouch for Chad and his character, and Chad showed his appreciation on Twitter.
Elway, as observers noted immediately after the pick Saturday, was a draft mate of Kelly in the famous 1983 first round, which was loaded with legendary quarterbacks. They led their teams to nine Super Bowls combined, and tangled endlessly throughout the 1980s and ‘90s for AFC supremacy, along with Dan Marino.
Chad Kelly has the physical skill, size and toughness required to play in the NFL. But his sketchy judgment has been well-documented — including a bar incident earlier in his college career that was the basis of his combine invitation being rescinded.
The chances of Kelly being drafted were extremely slim by the time the big moment arrived if you consider the bar incident, two torn ACLs, his nomadic college career and a pro day that had to be cut short because of a wrist injury that required surgery
The quarterbacks who did go ahead of him ended up being no surprise, with the mild exception of Iowa’s C.J. Beathard. Kelly being snapped up when he was, then, and by whom, was the biggest surprise.
If he makes the roster, Kelly will likely get a year to redshirt, heal everything and absorbing some wisdom from the Broncos’ legend and team president. Eventually, though, the best-case scenario is that he’ll be on deck if either Trevor Siemien or Paxton Lynch, or both, stall in their own progress next season.
But there are a lot of high-profile situations Kelly will have to navigate before that. And, again, that hasn’t been what he does best.