The NFL’s pull on Chad Kelly was legit.
All of Kelly’s advisers wanted him to return for his senior year at the University of Mississippi. His family knew deep down he should go back. NFL executives and draft analysts told The Buffalo News another year in college would provide a marvelous benefit.
The NFL, though, that’s what Kelly always has fantasized about.
The St. Joe’s graduate dreams of playing on the grandest stage and supporting a family that isn’t as wealthy as everyone assumes.
It’s all so close.
Despite the type of dominant Sugar Bowl performance many in Kelly’s inner circle thought would nudge him toward the NFL, he announced Monday he will not enter the draft and will return to Ole Miss for 2016.
“It feels great to be a part of a winning team for a school with such a rich history,” Kelly said in a statement, “but I realize that there’s still a lot of learning and growing that I can do with this team.
“It will take the hard work and commitment of everyone involved, but I believe that we have a committed coaching staff and some of the best players in college football. I can’t wait to see what we can do together in 2016.”
Ole Miss won 10 games for only the seventh time in school history.
Kelly was named MVP of the Sugar Bowl. In a rout of Oklahoma State, he completed 21 of his 33 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns (tying a Sugar Bowl record) with one interception. Kelly ran 10 times for a team-high 73 yards.
The Sugar Bowl punctuated a magical season after three years of instability. Kelly originally went to Clemson, but coach Dabo Swinney bounced him because of volatile behavior, ending with a sideline shouting match in the 2014 spring game. Kelly went to East Mississippi Community College and then enrolled at Ole Miss for last season.
Kelly broke several Ole Miss records belonging to father-son campus icons Archie and Eli Manning.
The Southeastern Conference is regarded as college football’s best competition, and the 4,542 total yards Kelly gained rank third in SEC history behind Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel’s 2012 and 2013 seasons. Kelly’s 4,042 passing yards also rank third.
Even so, Archie Manning lauded Kelly for returning.
“Chad plays against top competition in the SEC, and he needs another year of that,” Manning told The Buffalo News. “A year ago he was playing junior-college football.
“This is a good decision.”
Kelly in December asked the NFL’s college advisory committee -- a tool for underclassmen to determine whether it’s prudent to turn pro – for an evaluation. The committee rates underclassmen as potential first- or second-round draft picks, or neither.
Kelly’s grade came back as neither first- or second-round, but that was before the Sugar Bowl.
The NFL’s financial draw was a consideration for Chad Kelly. Many imagine his family lives large because his uncle is Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. Chad’s father works at a Wegmans in the Northtowns; his mother is a school teacher.
“My wife and I are very happy that he’s decided to stay,” Chad’s father, Kevin Kelly, said. “Two years at that university, it’s nothing but a positive.
“We love Oxford. It’s become an extension of our family. The coaches and the fans have been wonderful. They’ve helped Chad grow as a young man and an NFL quarterback – if that may be.”
Chad Kelly also noted it was important to finish his liberal-arts degree. He’s scheduled to graduate this spring and would play for Ole Miss while working on a master’s degree.
Jim Kelly is concerned that Chad’s running ability could expose him to injury. The loss of important Ole Miss starters to the NFL draft, including star junior receiver Laquon Treadwell, could make production difficult to repeat.
That said, count Uncle Jim among those who agree Chad’s decision offers too much upside to forfeit.
“I’m very proud of Chad,” Jim Kelly wrote in a text from New York. “We’ve had numerous conversations regarding his future.
“I’m excited to see him continue to fulfill his dreams both on and off the field at a great university like Ole Miss. I can’t wait to watch him compete.”