It seems as though we were just writing these Senior Salutes; yet, here we are again -- recapping the accomplishments of, and saying goodbye to, another class of Alabama graduates. Today, we cover perhaps Alabama's most valuable player over the past three years, RS Senior Center, Ryan Kelly.
High School / Underclassman
Ryan Kelly arrived at the Capstone from Ohio as one of the nation's most versatile linemen, although clearly recruited to fill the center spot soon-to-be-vacated by Barrett Jones. He was a consensus four-star recruit, an Under-Armour All-American, and ranked anywhere from 2nd to 6th at his position by the major recruiting services -- outpaced generally by only Auburn's Reese Dismukes.
Coming off of a high school knee injury in 2010, Kelly redshirted for the Tide in 2011, then saw relief work in nearly every game during Alabama's 2012 national championship run. For his effort he was named a 2012 All-SEC Freshman selection and was highlighted for the 2013 Rimington Trophy watch list.
In 2013, with Barrett Jones' departure, Alabama had lost one of the most decorated and versatile players in school history. The competition was between Kelly and veteran Chad Lindsay, the latter a road-grader and the son of Mississippi State great Duff Lindsay. But Kelly's athleticism and upside won out, and as a sophomore, he earned most of the team's starts. By the time of the disastrous Oklahoma game, Kelly was grading out as Alabama's most consistent lineman, and allowed no sacks in a game that was marked by tremendous pressure from the Dirt Burglar front.
2014 saw Alabama shift towards an uptempo, pass-friendly offense. Kelly not only survived the transition, but he thrived. He entered the season on the Rimington watch list and started 12 games for a Tide offense that finished 3rd in the conference and 17th nationally. As the captain of a rebuilt offensive line breaking in a true freshman left tackle, he began calling the protection assignments -- a job which he did exceptionally well. Alabama surrendered just 16 sacks all season, and Kelly personally did not allow a sack. He was overlooked for national awards or conference honors, but entering 2015, there was no question that he was among the best centers in the nation.
This year, with a healthy Ryan Kelly again shepherding another retooling offensive line, Alabama reverted back to the paleoball for which he is well-suited. Kelly has graded out at 88.4 percent, including five games over 90 percent, and has not graded out below 84 percent all season. He has only missed eight assignments in 948 snaps (99.2% success rate,) and has 16 knockdowns. Impressively, Kelly has been flagged just once this season (and none for holding,) while not allowing a sack this season and giving up just four hurries on Jake Coker. This is particularly noteworthy as his interior linemates are excellent run-blockers, but not particularly gifted against the pass rush -- and one is a redshirt freshman.
For his excellence, Ryan Kelly was deservedly named First-Team All-SEC, First-Team All-American, an Outland Trophy semifinalist, and won the position's highest honor -- the Rimington Trophy given to the best center in the game.
They say that an offensive lineman is at his best when he is not noticed or when his name is not being called. Rarely is that as true as it is with Ryan Kelly's 'Bama career. Perhaps the most telling part of Kelly's game is how negatively the offense has performed when he was hampered by some nagging injuries. Two, in particular, stand out: in the 2014 Ole Miss game, Alabama had racked up over 168 yards of total offense before Kelly exited with a knee sprain early in the second quarter. The offense had a difficult time getting the running game on track thereafter against the Rebels' defensive line. The second instance was the 2013 Iron Bowl of Which We Shall Not Speak, where Kelly missed the entire game with an MCL injury. While the Tide drove the ball all game, Kelly's impact was repeatedly felt in short yardage and red zone situations, particularly on a failed 4th and short conversion that later necessitated the field goal attempt.
Like the man against whom he was always compared, Reese Dismukes, Kelly is a taller athletic center, hitting the tape at 6'5", 287 pounds. He has good footwork for a collegian, and has graded out increasingly well as his career has progressed, allowing very few sacks in his three years and 34 starts under center, and none this season. Kelly's pro prospects are somewhat limited given his lighter build, though. Most scouting prospectus reports indicate that he will need work in the weight room to effectively reach defenders in the second level and that his footwork on passing situations isn't quite NFL-calibre as yet. However, his athletic upside and impressive results against marquee competition presently have Kelly projected as a late-round pick.
Kelly need not rely on the NFL, though. He is a semifinalist for the Campbell Award, which recognizes outstanding athleticism, community service and academic accomplishments. He was also named the 2015 SEC Football Scholar-Athlete of the year. And, this past weekend, Ryan Kelly picked up his Masters from the University of Alabama.
We wish Kelly well. His quiet achievements over the past three seasons will be sorely missed.
Roll Tide, Ryan.