Joshua Kelley has gone from obscurity on the UCLA roster to star running back and apparently has opted to take that ride for one more year.
There were reports last week that Kelley, a redshirt junior, was likely to enter his name into the NFL draft ahead of the January 14 deadline. However, as of the early entrance list published at 1:15am Tuesday, four hours past the deadline to submit his name, Kelley’s name was not on the NFL list. The lone caveat is that the final list from the NFL will be published on February 18th. But that is primarily because players who did submit their names by the February 14th deadline have 72 hours to change their minds. The only Bruins who appear on the list from the 2018 team that went 3-9 are the ones who previously announced, offensive lineman Andre James and tight end Caleb Wilson. Kelley has not made any statement in any fashion, nor has UCLA.
If in fact Kelley did let the NFL deadline come and go without submitting his name, it is a big difference maker for the UCLA offense. The Bruins had not had an established running game for several years until 2018. Kelley was named the starting running back prior to the first week of the season. He was benched in week three before the Fresno State game when his performance did not live up to coach Chip Kelley’s expectations. From there, he began a breakout season, with 124 yards rushing on only 12 carries against Colorado. It was the first of four consecutive one-hundred-yard rushing games. He saved his biggest performance for the biggest game of the season. He had 40 carries for 289 yards and two touchdowns in the win over USC.
On the season, Kelley rushed for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged five-and-a-half yards per carry. It was quite a season for a player who came to UCLA as a transfer from UC Davis after begging running backs coach Deshaun Foster for a look. He had to serve as a walk-on in 2017 during his redshirt season. Kelley was not given a scholarship until the 2018 season.
He put his name in for a draft grade by NFL scouts and general managers in December. That is something that is routine for many players. The results are unknown. We had previously reached out to NFL scouts through intermediaries. They like Kelley’s forward running style. He “falls forward and does not get knocked backwards.” But they noted it is a very deep draft for running backs. Among those in the draft are Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs of Alabama, Elijah Holyfield of Georgia, Benny Snell, Jr. of Kentucky, Miles Sanders of Penn State, and David Montgomery of Iowa State. All or most would likely be chosen ahead of Kelley.
As for the Bruins, they have other running backs returning. But it is with a big drop-off in production from what Kelley did in 2018. Kazmeir Allen had 188 yards on 30 carries. Of course, his running style is completely different. He is much smaller in size and more of a sprinter. They also return Martell Irby who had 187 yards on 45 carries. If, as it seems as of this posting, that Kelley is returning, it adds an entire level of depth and production to the UCLA offense for 2019.