Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly has Heisman potential

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Photo via Ole Miss Sports
Photo via Ole Miss Sports /

It’s no secret that Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss return the best signal caller from a season ago in the Southeastern Conference. With quarterback being a position the conference has lacked depth at in recent seasons, that fact is significant. And serves as the driving force behind the sentiment that the Rebels should again compete for the conference crown, after finishing third overall in the final league standings.

A devastating and wacky loss to Arkansas is all that stood in the way of the program’s first trip to Atlanta to play in the SEC championship game. However, with Kelly back to quarterback the Rebels in 2016, the losses of Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, Laremy Tunsil (and four other starters on the offensive line), don’t seem so daunting. Yes, the health and chemistry of the offensive line will be a concern until that unit proves it on the field, just as the receivers will have to prove they can replace the production of Treadwell and Core.

But Kelly has confidence in the pass catchers he will be throwing to next season, he’s said as much. He’s also proven that he can carry the offense and make plays when the offensive line is not exactly at their best or simply overmatched.

Jan 1, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly (10) hugs head coach Hugh Freeze at the end of the 2016 Sugar Bowl against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mississippi won, 48-20. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly (10) hugs head coach Hugh Freeze at the end of the 2016 Sugar Bowl against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mississippi won, 48-20. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports /

Furthermore, it seems Kelly proved himself in many ways, at every turn, last season. While some outside the program questioned whether or not he would get in trouble off the field, he simply stayed focused on watching film, getting better and doing what he needed to do in the classroom. Some wondered if could get it done against the top tier teams in the league.

All he did was become the first Rebel quarterback to ever beat Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the same season. And understandably so, some wondered if he could continue to take lumps in the pocket, downfield when he took off running and especially around the goal line. He only finished with a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns(taking more than a few licks going into the end zone) to go with his 500 net rushing yards, which was good for second on the team.

Even more impressive, his best two rushing performances came in the final two games, when he rushed for 74 and 73 yards against Mississippi State and Oklahoma State(his long run of 43 yards came against the Cowboys), respectively.

While leading an offensive unit that broke 14 school record, Kelly himself was able to break or tie 14 school records, as well. Some of his notable accomplishments from last season include:

  • Led the SEC with 4,402 passing yards and 31 touchdown passes, while finishing 10th and tied for ninth overall in the FBS in those categories, respectively.
  • Became the first Ole Miss player to be named Sugar Bowl MVP since Arching Manning in 1970 and the first Rebel quarterback to win 10 games in a season since Eli Manning in 2003.
  • Named to the All-SEC second team.
  • Finished second in the SEC in passer efficiency at 155.9 and 13th overall in the FBS.
  • Finished fourth in the SEC in completion percentage at 65.1%, good enough for 19th best in the all of the FBS.
Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports /

With an impressive year in the rearview, Kelly is a known commodity in a league with not to many of those guys returning. However, after passing up what could have been a faint hope in the NFL draft that will take place at the end of this month, Kelly is expected to emerge more prominently as a draft pick in 2017. Mainly because his mental sharpness helps him to learn and adapt quickly and he has proved to be a perfect fit in Hugh Freeze and Dan Werner’s system.

Not to mention he has a big time arm, capable of being accurate deep down the field and in the intermediate level. There’s no reason not to believe that with a full year in the system behind him that he is now ready to take another step. Most of the focus, as it pertains to that step up, will center around whether or not he is able to cut down the number of interceptions he threw last season, which was 13.

The play of the offensive line, especially early in the season will also factor into the type of season Kelly is able to have. Certainly the fact that a new guy will have to emerge as the go-to guy in the passing game, while others learn and accept their roles, is also an area to be concerned over.

However, if the number of talented targets in the receiver corps push each other and Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore’ea Stringfellow , Evan Engram or whoever emerge as “the guy.” Then on top of that the offensive line gels early and stands strong against some of the ferocious defensive lines in the SEC, then it is conceivable that Kelly could find himself in New York in December.

"“I think it’s big. But I think the biggest thing is that we all came together and played really, really well today.  And coming into this game, we knew that we were going to face a tough defense. And we knew we had to be on our P’s and Q’s. And we went out and executed. And the coach put us in the right situation. And knowing that we came into this game having to execute each drive, that is huge. And we did that,” Chad Kelly following the Sugar Bowl win over Oklahoma State."

For precaution and simply because the time was right, Kelly’s Spring was cut short with two weeks remaining. The reason being was so that the fierce competitor could have surgery done on a sports hernia injury that has bothered him dating back to last season.

In that time it was discovered that the youngsters at quarterback were not the backing down types. Though the defense had their moments and were cause for numerous struggles for early-enrollee Shea Patterson and redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin. While Pellerin’s size(listed at 6’4 229) and arm strength make him a serious candidate for the backup position this Fall, it appears to be Patterson’s job.

The true freshman-to-be is simply the perfect fit for the system and even Freeze admitted at the conclusion of the 15 spring practices that he was more impressed than he thought he might be with his blue-chip quarterback signee.

Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

Not to mention, after having been groomed for the position for most of his life, that the Army All-American was simply fine-tuned in many aspects of the game and more ready than typical freshmen. His exceptionally quick release also make him impressive to watch when he’s throwing it around.

Patterson has shown that he is the quarterback of the future and will likely live up to his near-overwhelming hype, but this season Kelly is too much to overcome. With that said the future of the position is bright even beyond Patterson, as Pellerin is not a guy to forget about. His talent would make him a more-than-viable candidate down the road and an above-average backup.