Chad Kelly’s case for the Heisman trophy
Chad Kelly set the world on fire out of the gate last fall. It was something to behold, as he guided the Ole Miss offense to back-to-back, 70-plus point outings against UT Martin and Fresno State. In week three, however, he forever supplanted himself into Rebel lore by beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kelly, as Rebel fans well know, would go on to lead Ole Miss to a 10-win season, a second straight win over MSU and a Sugar Bowl victory.
The Sugar Bowl MVP also became the first Ole Miss quarterback to defeat Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the same season. Each of those wins was enormous on the Rebels’ way to their first 10-win season since 2003. Even more impressive for the second team All-SEC selection Kelly was that, as a first-year starter in the SEC, he managed to carry the offense without Laremy Tunsil for the first seven games.
(Chad Kelly video highlights via GarrottParkinsonTV)
All in all, Kelly finished the season with 4,042 passing yards (1st in SEC, 10th in FBS), 31 passing touchdowns (1st in SEC, t-9th in FBS), a 65.1 completion percentage (4th in SEC, 19th in FBS) and threw for an average of 310.9 yards per game.
Additionally, Kelly also proved to be a dangerous runner in 2015. He rushed for 10 touchdowns, including big runs against Alabama, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State. It seemed like he executed a crucial run in nearly every game.
More than anything, it appeared that Kelly and Hugh Freeze were speaking the same language and there was perhaps no better fit for the scheme.
With all of this mind, what is not to like about Kelly’s chances of winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016? Here is the case for his victory, as we see it:
Depth at wide receiver
Sure, go-to receiver Laquon Treadwell was drafted and signed by the Minnesota Vikings. He won’t be able to make spectacular leaping catches and physical runs for Kelly anymore. However, his void only opens up room for another playmaker to step in. Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow are the most likely candidates to take over the go-role, but returning experience in the persons of Derrick Jones and Markell Pack should also prove very helpful.
Tight end Evan Engram deserves his own paragraph, as we are all aware of just how dangerous he can be. Last season Engram continued to show his value to the team with his excellent blocking skills in the Rebels’ running game, yet he still managed to come up with huge catches when his team needed him. This season, Engram is a senior and this will be his final go. With an influx of tight end talent coming in this fall, look for Engram to be lined up more similarly to other receivers often this season. His great hands could again be the
Literally, there will be receivers everywhere Kelly looks this fall.
More opportunity than the competition
The two most obvious early favorites for the 2016 Heisman trophy are last year’s runners-up in Clemson signal caller Deshaun Watson and Stanford all-purpose back Christian McCaffrey–though LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and others will be contenders, as well.
In fact, Kelly will square off against another Heisman favorite in Florida State’s Dalvin Cook in the season-opener.
While all those players, as well as many others across the county, are considered viable candidates, most of them will trail Kelly in opportunities to create Heisman moments.
Sure, the Ole Miss/Alabama game could be the most anticipated of 2016, but the LSU matchup, as well as Florida State, Georgia, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, are also sure to be tense games where Kelly could emerge with a hero play or performance.
The ACC, Pac 12, Big 10, Big 12 and other conferences simply will not produce as many marquee match ups to give players in their leagues the opportunity for as many Heisman moments as Kelly will have the chance to create.
When it comes to Fournette, the Tigers could see a boost in their passing game this season, and will likely have to, to be contenders in the SEC West. Also, while the Tigers are favored by many heading into this season, it is also clear that the program could fold with a bad loss or two. So, Kelly seems to be the more stable candidate, who will have the ball in his hands more.
This is the area where a lot of people are missing. Many are reveling in what Kelly was able to do last season, but the ceiling for this season is much, much higher. Not only is he more versed in the offense, but he is entering his second year with a lot of returning receivers, linemen and other playmakers. He is becoming a more vocal leader, as well. Make no mistake, the team will be Kelly’s this fall–and he knows it.
Limiting interceptions this year, after chucking 13 last season, will be a major element of Kelly’s improvement. His decision-making will be even better as he heads into year two at Ole Miss.
Similarly, his second run through a tough, SEC schedule is likely to go more smoothly, as well, as he knows what to expect and is better prepared for what’s coming. Additionally, Kelly is a year more mature, a year more comfortable in his skin within the Ole Miss program and community.
Enjoy the ride!
If you haven’t already done so, you might want to jump on the Swag Kelly Heisman train with the rest of Rebel nation. Get your bumper stickers and (like you did with the Deuce McAllister and Eli Manning Heisman bumper stickers) leave them on for years to come.
Chad Kelly’s senior season will be one for the ages! Are you ready?
John Luke covers all sports for The Rebel Walk and also writes about high school football for the Southern Elite Sports network, most frequently for SES Mississippi. John Luke is from Tupelo and is the Host of The Buzz on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-3 p.m. on 95.1 FM in Tupelo. He is also a frequent co-host of Mississippi Sports Today with Craig Horton on ESPN 96.3 FM, The Ticket, from 7-9 a.m. in Tupelo.