Los Angeles Rams 90-Man Roster Preview: Running Back John Kelly

by Blaine Grisak
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Last season, the Los Angeles Rams took John Kelly out of Tennessee in the sixth round. After an underwhelming rookie season, Kelly heads in to year two, fighting for a spot on the roster. Doing so however, won’t be easy as the Rams drafted Darrell Henderson, brought back Malcolm Brown, and signed Matt Colburn in the offseason.

2018 Season

Coming from Tennessee, Kelly was praised for his receiving ability out of the backfield – a role Sean McVay had desperately been looking for in his offense. The Rams brought in Lance Dunbar in McVay’s first year, but an injury derailed that plan. Kelly was thought to be a steal in the sixth round as well as a potential backup plan for Gurley as a receiving threat.

That plan seemed to work out in the preseason, leaving fans excited and claiming the steal of the draft. Kelly showed his playmaking ability in the preseason when he racked up the third-most rushing yards and his 4.3 yards per carry ranked second among running backs with 45 or more carries.

Unfortunately, that did not translate to the regular season. In December, Kelly had 27 carries for just 74 yards, averaging 2.7 yards per carry when Gurley went down with his knee injury against the Eagles. Because of Kelly and Davis’ ineffectiveness, the Rams brought in CJ Anderson.

Roster Battle

Kelly wasn’t a lock to make the roster last season, but it wasn’t a shock when he did make the final-53. This season however, he will have to really earn it. The Rams’ top-3 running backs are set in stone with Gurley, Brown, and Henderson and it would be a shock if the Rams kept more than four running backs.

Therefore it will be between Kelly, Davis, and Colburn for the final spot. This will be Davis’ third year on the team while Colburn is a hard-working player that consistently improved at Wake Forest.

Kelly had a good preseason last year, but with Henderson now the primary pass-catching back outside of Gurley, the Tennessee running back will need to prove his value.

Three Plays on Tape

It’s plays like this that fans saw from Kelly during the preseason that left them so excited. Kelly hits the hole on the outside zone and then uses his vision to find the open space on the opposite side of the field for what ended up a 40-yard run.

Kelly did more than just showcase his speed on the outside and in the open field. Here he hits the hole with purpose inside and barrels his way into the end zone for the score.

This is going to be a big factor if Kelly makes the roster. This is in the regular season after the Rams signed Anderson. The Rams go with the play-fake to Kelly, who steps up and blocks  Hassan Reddick coming in on the blitz. The blitz pickup by Kelly is huge as it sets up Goff to throw the touchdown to Robert Woods. If Kelly can show his ability as a pass protector and improve on the ground, he’ll have a good shot to make the roster.

Biggest Question

Did the Rams draft Kelly’s replacement in the third round? The Rams drafted Darrell Henderson in the third round in the draft. The Memphis running back has the same skillset as Kelly, but he does it much better.

When the Rams signed Anderson at the end of last year, it was obvious the Rams didn’t have the trust in Kelly to be the every down back and prior to that, the rookie hadn’t been active in Weeks 1-13.

Kelly will need to show improvements from year one to year two and it will take more than just being a star in the preseason.

2019 Outlook and Role

The best case scenario for Kelly is that he makes the final roster. With Brown and Henderson behind Gurley, it would be tough to see him making any impact in the running game.

Even if he makes the final roster, Kelly would most likely be a healthy scratch on game days but would need to prove that he can be ready when his number is called if a situation like last season arises once again.

Chances of Making Final Roster

Kelly will be the favorite to earn the final running back spot, but it won’t be a given. As mentioned earlier, Davis will be going into year three while Colburn will not go down without a fight and could play a role on special teams.

The sophomore running back will be favored for the final roster, but more so than last year, he will have to earn it.


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