Tennessee Junior Running Back John Kelly Declares for NFL Draft

Under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt, getting Tennessee back to relevance is going to be an arduous rebuilding project, and 2018 will be a fresh start.

There’s going to be a little more newness after Friday’s news.

Junior running back John Kelly announced on his Instagram that he is foregoing his final season in orange and white and turning pro. It’s unclear where — or if — Kelly will get drafted, but this is a big blow to UT’s offense, especially considering a more pro-style approach seems to suit Kelly’s running style a lot better than the unfolding lawn chair offense under Butch Jones.

Against top competition early in the season, Kelly was at his best in his first season out of the shadow of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. As the season wore on and injuries piled up on the offensive line, the Vols went away from featuring Kelly. He wound up with 778 yards on the ground and a 4.1 rushing average to go along with nine touchdowns. He also had 37 catches for 299 yards.

Kelly can do it all. Though that rushing average isn’t pretty, it’s not indicative of the type of player he is. He is a beast with the football who can wear down defenses. Though this isn’t the smartest decision — in my opinion — somebody in the NFL is going to get a late-round war horse. Kelly hasn’t ever suffered a major injury, he’s still got fresh legs and his best days are in front of him.

With Kelly heading out, that means rising sophomore Ty Chandler will see an increased load of carries. He ran for 305 yards on a 4.3 average in his first year, and has game-breaking ability. Tim Jordan, Carlin Fils-Aime and Trey Coleman are other running backs on the roster who could wind up getting carries.

The Vols recently signed Memphis (Cordova HS) power back Jeremy Banks, and he seems to have a good opportunity to step right in and be a significant part of this offense. Though Georgia prep runner Anthony Grant is currently committed, he’s looking around, so it’s possible UT could sign another back. The Vols will likely look to do so.

One player Pruitt already has offered is 4-star recruit and Oklahoma commitment Tavion Thomas, from Dayton, Ohio, who didn’t sign during the early period. He would fit the mold of a power back who can step in with Banks and provide some rugged runs to go along with the finesse of Jordan and Fils-Aime and the complete-back style of Chandler.

It’s a big blow to the Vols to lose Kelly; but here’s wishing him the best in the NFL. He was a great player in Knoxville.

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Oleg Zeltser
Oleg Zeltser

Wishing him best of luck but as of now he is not listed as a top 30 RB in the draft. Given the fact he was suspended for misdemeanor drug possession he might end up as a undrafted free agent. I am all for kids going pro so they can get paid but I fear he might not get the chance

Robert Turner
Robert Turner

If Pruitt can bring the OL to respectable in 2018, we can win 6-7 games with the running backs we have now. To win ten games everything has to be installed (like 3-4) and other position groups either transformed or recruited to fit. Maybe 2019?

In the short run, Kelly’s absence might not make any real difference. He sort of emerged out of almost nowhere as our RB savior. Hope it all works out well for him.


I wish him the best.

But I don’t think this is his best move. I think he has the talent to be in the NFL, but with how bad the team fell apart this year, he never got to showcase it. And that may cost him. I think if he had stayed, he would have had a good shot to have a better season personally and as a team. Thus showcasing his talents better for better opportunities in the draft.