"The next big thing:Ryan Kelly, Colts: The Alabama alum is thought to be one of the most complete and well-developed centers to come out of college over the last few years. The Colts selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2016 draft to keep Andrew Luck upright and provide much-needed excellence in an offensive line that has underperformed for far too long."
While the Colts rookie center did not ultimately make the Top 5 centers in the NFL ranking–and rightfully so considering he’s not yet played a meaningful snap at the professional level, there’s plenty of reason for optimism and excitement for the franchise.
The 6’4″, 311 pound center anchored the Alabama Crimson Tide offensive line, as a 3-year starter with 35 career starts and was named the Rimington Trophy Award Winner, which is given annually to the nation’s top center. Not to mention, he was a consensus 1st-Team All-American selection last season and one of the best center prospects to come out in the last 5 years:
"“Yeah, and I absolutely thought he was a terrific college player,” said renowned NFL Films guru Greg Cosell on The Midday 180 earlier this offseason. “I thought he’s as good of a center as I…you could make the argument that there might not be a better center prospect then maybe since the Pouncey’s came into the league. Some might even say Ryan Kalil.”"
There’s no question that Kelly was instrumental in paving the way for Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry‘s 2,219 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns at running back this past season.
With the Colts new 1st round man in the middle, the offense could see more interior rushing lanes opened for running back Frank Gore, as well as better overall pass protection.
In fact, with another “quarterback” on the field–only this time along the offensive line, the Colts strongly believe that Kelly could be instrumental in star quarterback Andrew Luck‘s continued development:
"“I think you cannot underestimate how much Ryan Kelly means to the franchise, because I can tell you that he puts Andrew in a different state of mind,” said team owner Jim Irsay on Ryan Kelly, when announcing Luck’s new mega-deal. “Andrew has not had that type of center in front of him that he can depend on for the next decade or more. We were fortunate to have him there to pick in the first round and couldn’t be more excited about that pick.”"
Not only will the blocking itself figure to be upgraded at center, but Kelly can also improve the Colts called offensive line protections at the line of scrimmage.
Something that will assuredly take pressure off the Colts quarterback and allow him to make more plays in a cleaner pocket.
While the NFL is admittedly a tougher game and Kelly will experience his fair share of challenges, his collegiate track record speaks for itself:
"“According to Pro Football Focus, Kelly wasn’t penalized and didn’t allow a single sack in 1,032 snaps last season. Of those 1,032 plays, 488 were pass-blocking plays. Luck has to feel good hearing that.”"
That was going up against some of the toughest defensive line competition in the SEC too.
Not to mention, Kelly also had the luxury of practicing against the likes of two second round teammates A’Shawn Robinson (Detroit Lions) and Jarran Reed (Seattle Seahawks) along the defensive line on a regular basis while playing at Alabama.
Therefore, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Kelly makes such a ranking next season, as one of the Top 5 centers in all of football. His play, production, and pedigree while at Alabama, in addition to the glowing reports we’ve heard from the Colts complex, certainly point toward that direction in his near future.