A year ago, shortly after the conclusion of the 2016 NFL Draft, Ole Miss rising senior Chad Kelly was considered among the top college quarterbacks in what proved to be a decidedly weak class. But off-field issues and injuries led to Kelly slipping down draft boards, all the way to the 253rd and final pick of the 2017 draft, which qualified him for Mr. Irrelevant status.
And Kelly may not have been drafted at all if not for his uncle and Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, who talked up his nephew to Broncos general manager John Elway, who also happens to be a Hall of Famer and a member of the 1983 draft class that included Kelly.
Chad Kelly's physical abilities have never been in question, but character concerns saw his stock drop. He and Joe Mixon had their NFL combine invitations revoked due to off-field issues, and Kelly's situation was complicated by an injured wrist he suffered at Ole Miss' pro day in April.
"I called his uncle, and he said, 'He's a good kid,'" Elway said, via ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold. "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."
First-year Broncos coach Vance Joseph went so far as to call Kelly "my favorite quarterback in the draft," though he acknowledged that Kelly doesn't arrive in Denver with some baggage.
"He's made some childish mistakes in the past, but he's learned from that,'' Joseph said. "I'm comfortable with it.''
Kelly, for his part, said all the right things after he was drafted.
"You're going to have to answer for them in the [pre-draft] process,'' he said of his off-field issues. "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.''
As it stands, the Broncos now have three young quarterbacks on the roster: Trevor Siemian, a 2015 seventh-round pick; Paxton Lynch, a 2016 first-rounder; and Kelly.