Over the last few months, we’ve been looking at the Jets offseason acquisitions. We continue today with an in-depth look at former Saints offensive lineman Derrick Kelly II.
The 26-year old Kelly is listed at 6’5” and 320 pounds and has played in seven NFL games since being undrafted out of Florida State in 2019. He has spent time with the Saints and Giants.
Kelly was a three-star tackle coming out of high school and he headed to Florida State, where he would redshirt his first season in 2014.
In 2015, he started to contribute, starting four of the first six games before suffering a season-ending injury. He then played in five games, starting two in 2016.
In 2017 and 2018, he took over as a full-time starter, although he played multiple positions. He started all 13 games in 2017, but he missed two games and came off the bench in a third in 2018 due to injuries.
Kelly did not receive all-conference recognition during his career and wasn’t invited to the scouting combine. He was signed by the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent after having gone unselected in the 2019 draft.
With the Saints, he spent his rookie year on the practice squad, but made the roster in his second season and played in six games.
In 2021, Kelly was released in final cuts and ended up on the Giants’ practice squad. He was activated for one regular season game but wasn’t signed to a futures deal after the season.
With no contract, Kelly was invited to the Jets’ rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and performed well enough to earn a contract and an invitation to training camp.
Now let’s take a look at what Kelly brings to the table, divided into categories.
Kelly has solid size, very good length and displayed adequate strength with 25 bench press reps at the combine.
His speed and agility numbers were poor, as his forty yard dash, short shuttle and three cone drill were all almost exactly the same as his new teammate Nate Herbig, who was one of the worst performers at the 2019 combine. Kelly’s explosiveness numbers were much better than Herbig, though, albeit only about average overall.
In limited regular season action (34 offensive snaps in total), Kelly played at left guard with the Giants and as a jumbo package tight end with the Saints. However, he’s played exclusively as a right tackle in preseason action.
At Stanford, Kelly started multiple games at right tackle, left tackle and left guard, with 28 career starts overall. He did not play any reps at center or right guard.
Pass protection was considered one of Kelly’s weaknesses coming out, especially after he gave up six sacks in his senior year. He was part of a unit that had struggled badly as a group, although his pressure percentages weren’t too bad.
He’s made some notable improvements at the NFL level. He looks a lot more comfortable and balanced when dropping into his stance, whereas he looked a lot more robotic and was susceptible to being beaten by speed off the edge in college.
He seems to have a good understanding of how to use his length to stay in front of his man and can repel a spin move or react to a counter.
On this play, his man was able to drive him back to free up his inside arm to make the play when the quarterback stepped up.
He’s generally limited any pressure well in preseason action, although he’s been largely untested because he’s only faced backups.
Kelly had displayed some good run blocking potential in college. He displays some good power on the move here against Kentavius Street - a player who started four NFL games in the past two seasons.
At the NFL level, he’s continued to show some promise as a run blocker. He explodes out of his stance and displays some good power at the point of attack and the ability to lock onto his man.
Kelly’s lack of natural athleticism might limit how effective he can be at blocking on the move though. He will sometimes lunge after or fall off blocks in space and it’s a bit too much to ask him to make a reach block.
As noted, Kelly was used as a jumbo package tight end by the Saints and they had some short yardage success running behind him.
This play sees the defensive end try to shoot inside but Kelly is able to stay on him to take him down before he can penetrate to blow up the run.
Kelly hasn’t had many chances to contribute to the screen game at the pro level and doesn’t seem like a player who will naturally hustle out in front of a ball carrier on a screen pass. However, he manages to find a target and makes a positive block on this play with the Seminoles.
Kelly’s hand placement and usage seems pretty effective. He combines his length with some well-timed and accurate initial strikes to buy himself extra time in pass protection.
As noted, his footwork seems to have improved, specifically in how comfortable he looks when dropping back into his pass protection stance. He could perhaps be better at setting up to angle his man off his space though
In the running game, he has shown he can adjust his leverage and angle by resetting his hand placement and working his feet to stay on his block.
Kelly had a couple of false starts in his limited NFL action and also had this holding penalty in preseason.
Penalties were also a slight concern for Kelly in college. He had 18 in his career, including nine in his redshirt senior season.
Kelly’s only special teams role both in college and in the pros has been as a blocker on the field goal unit. He hasn’t made any mistakes or had any penalties in this role.
Kelly didn’t seem to make any mental errors of blow any assignments in his preseason action, other than on this play where he was late to engage the rusher coming off the edge, leading to a pass deflection.
At FSU he was a member of an offensive line that was constantly in flux and had a ton of breakdowns. However, it’s generally accepted that he was one of the more reliable players on that unit and therefore not to blame.
The fact he’s played so many different roles speaks to his versatility and the scheme familiarity he would have developed during that time.
Kelly obviously displayed a team-first attitude with his willingness to prepare himself for multiple roles.
Coach Jimbo Fisher lauded Kelly for his toughness and said he was a hard worker with pride and competitiveness.
Kelly had plenty of injury issues during the early part of his college career, limiting him to just 11 games and six starts in his first two seasons. A torn meniscus prematurely ended his redshirt freshman season in 2015 and he also had to deal with a hip injury, a swollen ankle and a concussion.
In his last two years, he missed just two games due to injury and he hasn’t had many injury issues at the NFL level. He missed two weeks due to being placed on Covid-19 reserve and was on the non-football injury list for three days at the start of 2021 training camp.
As with Herbig, Kelly lacks the top-level athleticism that the Jets usually look for in their offensive linemen, although his versatility and strength are positive traits.
He has experience of blocking both in zone blocking schemes and man/power with both elements present in the Jets’ system.
Kelly was a teammate of current Jets Justin Hardee and Sheldon Rankins in New Orleans and Hamsah Nasirildeen was a teammate of his for two years at FSU.
Kelly is a player who may have been underrated due to his poor athletic numbers and the fact that the FSU line as a whole was so bad. However, he’s put some good plays on film in his preseason and regular season action at the NFL level and looks to have responded well to NFL-level coaching.
He is obviously a long-shot to make the roster, but his positional versatility gives him a chance to be the kind of player the Jets retain on their practice squad to give them some emergency depth.