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Marino | John Kelly is Vols next workhorse back

DEC 30 Music City Bowl - Nebraska v Tennessee
Photo by Skip Williams/Icon Sportswire

Scouting Notes

Marino | John Kelly is Vols next workhorse back

The Tennessee Volunteers football program has had it share of ups and downs over the last 20 years but they always seem to have a talented workhorse at running back. With Alvin Kamara onto the NFL and Jalen Hurd quitting the team, the stage is set for junior running back John Kelly to be the focal point of the Vols rushing attack.

A relative unknown to start last season, Kelly finished the year strong by tallying 612 rushing yards over the Vols final seven games. For the season, Kelly scored five rushing touchdowns and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

I spoke to former Vols running back Alvin Kamara about Kelly this offseason and he raved about Kelly’s approach to the game and was bullish about what he could do in the season to come.

“John’s crazy,” Kamara exclaimed. “He works hard, he takes coaching well, he understands the game and he wants to run through somebody’s face every time he gets the ball. He’s resilient and I expect him to have a big year.”

All of these clips are brought to you by Krossover, NDT Scouting’s film partner for the 2018 NFL Draft season.

Courtesy of our friends at Krossover, I was able to watch all 104 of Kelly’s touches from last season and you can see that resilience and competitive nature that Kamara referred to throughout his film. He offers an intriguing skill set and is currently one of the top under-the-radar backs entering the season.

With Kelly primed for a breakout season, let’s examine specific examples of the traits that will propel him to success.

Kamara wasn’t kidding when he said Kelly “wants to run through somebody’s face every time he gets the ball.” Even though he checks in at 5-foot-9 and just over 200 pounds, it doesn’t stop him from being the aggressor, running behind his pads and churning out yards after contact.

Kelly has a surprising amount of power for a back of his size as evidenced by this rep.  He should be dead to rights at the 33-yard line where he is firmly in the grasp of two Gamecock’s defenders with another two in the radius to halt his surge. Instead, Kelly takes them on a ten-yard ride to the 43-yard line, demonstrating powerful leg drive to move the pile.

What makes Kelly such a powerful runner despite not offering the frame of a typical power back is that he always keeps his feet moving. That combined with a lower center of gravity enables him to absorb contact and continue battling up the field. Kelly runs behind his pads and will always challenges tacklers with physicality.

Kelly has the power, low center of gravity and balance to grind out tough yards after contact but its his competitive toughness and desire to keep working for every inch that makes him so appealing. He maximizes his touches and is never willing to concede anything. The way he finishes this carry provides insight into his demeanor.

And yes, Kelly has the lateral movement skills and agility you would expect for a back of his size. His combination of power and elusive traits make him a dynamic weapon that is capable of carrying the Vols offense in 2017.

Kelly will be 21-years-old this October so an early declaration to the NFL would come as no surprise if he has the season I expect him to have. The Vols returning offensive line has 111 combined career starts, providing Kelly with an experienced group of blockers in front of him.

Now the clear-cut feature back for Tennessee, Kelly is ready to continue the Volunteers’ legacy of outstanding ball carriers.

Joe Marino

Marino began his career as the Assistant Editor for USA Today Digital Properties Draft Sites Network in 2011. A member of the FWAA, Marino writes about the NFL, College Football and NFL Draft for FanRag Sports.

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