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Broncos Film Room: Can Chad Kelly be trusted as Denver's backup in 2018?

Andre Simone Avatar
August 15, 2018

Finally, after writing close to 40 film rooms during the offseason covering every new free agent addition and draft pick—plus so much more—there’s some actual game film to write about.

While we’ve analyzed every notable new addition to the team, in a sense the Denver Broncos had another new member that we hadn’t got to yet this offseason, Chad Kelly.

After having to sit out his entire rookie year on the IR while recovering from an ACL tear he suffered during his senior year, everyone in town was excited to see the Broncos young QB on the field and he didn’t disappoint.

We broke down Kelly’s Ole Miss tape right after the 2017 draft, and the temptation to go back to his 2016 collegiate film to write more about him has been great, but we waited, waited to see him in a Broncos uniform in an official game before we wrote about No. 6. On Saturday, against the Minnesota Vikings, we had our chance.

Leading Denver to a comeback as he battled it out with Kyle Sloter, Kelly’s first outing in Orange and Blue gave us plenty to analyze.

The game had plenty of positives, though the big question of if he can be trusted as a backup quarterback in the NFL still lingers and is what we’ll try to answer in this piece.

After re-watching every play he appeared in, here’s what we found.

Lots to work with

The most encouraging part of Kelly’s game was the zip and power with which he was able to throw darts over the middle of the field, at times in tight coverage, anticipating his read.

He exuded confidence when the timing was right on his throws and wasn’t afraid to unleash the gun in tight windows. This is exactly what Kelly did best at Ole Miss. It’s encouraging to see that he had no rust coming onto the field in his first appearance as a pro. 

The best example of this was this pass to tight end Brian Parker.

The second that Parker turned his head and cut inside Kelly let the ball out decisively, upping the RPMs and hitting the tight end perfectly in stride between two defenders. That’s a tough throw to make and Kelly made it look easy all while calmly stepping up in the pocket.

If he can be accurate over the middle while leading his receivers consistently, Kelly definitely has a future in the NFL. His ability to read the field and understand where the ball needs to go is very encouraging, as is his natural arm talent to zing passes in tight windows.

There were also times when the Broncos second-year quarterback was able to work off of his secondary reads, looking off targets with promising eye manipulation. These are all essential traits for an NFL quarterback and Kelly showed enough to get excited.

The best example of this was his first touchdown to Matt LaCosse, which was made possible by a breakdown in coverage but also by Kelly looking to the flats, forcing the coverage underneath and leaving LaCosse wide open down the sideline. 

More often than not, Kelly showed good ball placement, hitting his targets in stride and allowing them to make the reception and take off. 

Just as impressive, No. 6 was really poised with pressure bearing down on him. Heck, he was pretty good reading oncoming pressure, as well, and adjusting accordingly.

His touchdown throw to Phill Lindsay is a perfect example of this as he knows a defender is being given a free release coming off the edge, but he stays calm, waits for Lindsay’s route to unfold and leads him to perfection with an on-time pass. Kelly even adjusts his arm angle to squeeze the ball in. Everything he does is clean on this third-and-long play down in the red zone.

These are big-time plays and while the formations and reads he’s making them in are much more basic than what he’ll face in real NFL action, these are all very promising indicators of his progress and potential. 

However, his biggest play of all came on 3rd-and-6, on a snap that didn’t even turn into a pass. 

Watch how Kelly immediately reads the interior pressure that appears to be coming on a double A-gap blitz pre-snap and adjusts his protections accordingly. If he doesn’t do this, he’s almost certainly going to get sacked, instead, the tight end who goes from being lined up close to the line to the backfield blocks the oncoming blitz, giving Kelly more time. 

Again, this is fairly basic stuff, not the complex schemes we’ll see during the regular season, but the fact that Kelly’s already at this point in his development in his very first taste of real NFL action is incredibly promising and pretty impressive. 

Finally, Kelly showed some nice mobility on scrambles, another trait that we were encouraged by when scouting him in the SEC. He’s a deceptive athlete and has wheels, he was also smart about sliding when a tackler stepped up. More importantly, Kelly wasn’t too jittery in the pocket, taking, he only ran when he had no other option. 

Seeing him in practice, he looked very keen on making the right play, taking check downs and playing conservative, it’s been nice to see him balance that while playing loose in the preseason and making tougher throws by unleashing his arm talent. It’s hard to argue against Kelly being a gamer as he’s now stepped it up both in the team scrimmage and in his first preseason.

There’s a lot to work with. 

Still needs work

With all that said, there’s still plenty that Kelly needs to work on to be even a trustworthy backup NFL quarterback, let alone the franchise savior some want to make him out to be.

The thing that stood out, and frankly bugged me the most, was how his footwork just went out the window in the two-minute drill, leading to this poor pass that was almost intercepted.

He just wasn’t moving his feet, which he should have no business doing since it’s a part of his game coming from a spread attack. It just seemed like his fundamentals weren’t sharp once he knew the game was already lost, which he shouldn’t be doing. He also stared down his receivers more when he wasn’t moving his feet, another major issue.

While his ball placement was good for the most part when leading receivers over the middle, it wasn’t as good towards the sideline, where he was throwing behind guys on out-cuts, lead to the interception below.

On top of the ball being behind his target, he also stared down his receiver, which we saw some of in college—much like his inconsistent footwork.

Kelly is trying to do too much on the play, his footwork is a bit backloaded as he’s forcing the throw and he’s not reading the field properly, missing an open receiver underneath for a safe completion. He’s just too aggressive and the Vikings’ cornerback made him pay quickly. 

These bad tendencies are all too familiar and need to be ironed out.

Outside factors like Kelly playing against the third and fourth team defense should also temper expectations. He didn’t have a single completion to the sideline into real coverage, the zip and touch to the sideline was missing as he mostly operated in the short to intermediate areas. 

Another area of the young QBs game that needs work is his ability to operate under center. Of his 21 pass attempts in Saturday’s game, only one was under center, the touchdown to LaCosse. Kelly needs to develop that aspect of his game as he won’t be able to operate solely out of the gun in a game setting.

In conclusion

Kelly had a great debut, there’s no doubt about that, and with his arm strength over the middle of the field, added to his athletic skills he has plenty of enticing raw tools to work with. Added to those tools were some more advanced parts of his game, like his ability to handle pressure, his skills in leading receivers, and his ability to make pre-snap reads.

The big question here is if the organization would feel comfortable with Kelly being the backup quarterback in Denver if Case Keenum went down?  

To answer that, we need to still see more from the mercurial quarterback, who showed a few too many deficiencies late in the game.

From his college days, we know Kelly can throw the deep ball well and with touch, we need to see more of that. He also needs to be tested against higher level defensive talent and within more pro-style formations. Beyond all that, he’s still a gunslinger at heart who can be too aggressive at times, not what you’d want from your backup on a team that’s based around the defense and run game.

Kelly showed a lot of good things but he’s still far from a reliable backup at this point, and while on Saturday he clearly was the best option for Denver compared to Paxton Lynch, he still needs to confirm he’s better than some of the veteran options that could come available before the season starts.


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