The Denver Broncos used the draft’s final pick, 253rd overall, to select Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly on Saturday.
Kelly, a gifted quarterback who guided Ole Miss to wins over Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the 2015 season, had several off-the-field incidents in college and was dismissed from Clemson early in his career. His invitation to the scouting combined was rescinded, and teams around the league investigated his issues over the past four months.
Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said the Broncos carefully examined Kelly’s troubles. Kelly, who is the nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, is also working his way back from a torn ACL and meniscus he suffered in November.
Elway said he reached out to Jim Kelly on Saturday before the Broncos made their selection.
“I called his uncle, and he said, ‘He’s a good kid,'” Elway said. “I said, ‘OK, that’s all I need.’ I trust Jim with that. Obviously, there’s been some history there, but we felt comfortable. Chad understands what he’s been through and is ready to take this step and realizes the step that he’s taken is different than when he was in college. We’re full of confidence that Chad’s going to be able to come up here and understand the situation he’s in.”
Broncos head coach Vance Joseph called Kelly “my favorite quarterback in the draft.” On the field, Kelly threw for 4,042 yards in 2015, and he closed out his career at Ole Miss with 50 passing touchdowns and 15 more rushing touchdowns . The team went 14-8 in games he started.
In 2016, Kelly was the Southeastern Conference’s leader in total yards at 343.3 total yards per game at the time of his injury. He had thrown 19 touchdown passes in nine games.
However, off the field, Kelly has had several incidents that caused him to plummet on draft boards around the league.
“He’s made some childish mistakes in the past, but he’s learned from that,” Joseph said. “I’m comfortable with it.”
Kelly said he had “no clue” the Broncos would draft him.
“I’m so thankful,” he said. “I’m ready to get started as soon as possible.”
Kelly was dismissed from Clemson after one season at the school. He had clashed with coaches over several issues and has admitted he even threatened to quit football and play lacrosse if he wasn’t the starter.
At the time, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said: “He has a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program. I hope he will mature and grow from this and become the man and player I know he can be.”
Kelly also pleaded guilty in January 2015 to a non-criminal charge of disorderly conduct after he had argued with bouncers at a Buffalo bar in December 2014. According to the arrest report filed by police, he had allegedly threatened to get an “AK47 and spray this place.”
Kelly was later involved in a brawl that broke out at one of his brother’s high school football game last October.
“You’re going to have to answer for them in the [pre-draft] process,” Kelly said. “I have confidence in the way that I handled myself and the way I prepare myself for football games. I think they’re excited to get me, and I’m really excited to be a part of a great franchise.”
Kelly said he hoped to be back from his knee injury by the start of the regular season. He also had cut a throwing session short at his pro day earlier this month because of what was described as a wrist injury at the time.
Elway called it a “thumb” injury Saturday.
In the end, Joseph and Elway said Kelly’s potential and competitiveness made the risk worth taking with the final pick of the draft.
“He’s a competitor, and that’s what we’re really excited about,” Elway said. “He makes a lot of plays.”