The Jets recently added veteran offensive lineman Dennis Kelly to their 53-man roster, so we’re going to break him down in detail.
The 33-year old Kelly is listed at 6’8” and 321 pounds and was a fifth round pick for the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2012. He’s started 50 games in his NFL career, including three last season.
Kelly was not a highly sought-after recruit out of high school having played as a tight end and for the basketball team. He headed to Purdue in 2008, where he would play until 2011 and then went back to finish his degree in 2014.
At Purdue, Kelly started off as a backup in his freshman year but then was a three year starter and two-time all-Big Ten honorable mention.
Having not been invited to the scouting combine, Kelly was ranked as a possible late round pick ahead of the 2012 draft, but the Philadelphia Eagles selected him in the fifth round and he ended up starting the last 10 games of the season for them as a rookie.
While he didn’t play in 2013, Kelly made another five starts in 2014 and 2015 before being traded to the Tennessee Titans in the 2016 offseason.
In his first four seasons with Tennessee Kelly was never the first choice, but he started 16 games as an injury replacement. Finally, in 2020 he got the chance to start all 16 games for the first time. He didn’t give up a sack and contributed well as a blocker for Derrick Henry’s 2,000-yard season. Some media believed he could have been a Pro Bowler.
Despite his solid 2020 season, Kelly was cut in March and spent a year with the Green Bay Packers, for whom he started four games. Last season, he was with the Indianapolis Colts, starting three games. He didn’t give up a sack but did have two penalties.
After returning to Philadelphia for 2023, but failing to make their roster, Kelly was available for the Jets to add to their practice squad during the season. They signed Kelly to the active roster a few weeks ago when Connor McGovern and Wes Schweitzer went onto injured reserve.
Now let’s take a look at what Kelly brings to the table, divided into categories.
Kelly is obviously an imposing figure at 6’8” but his arm length is only about average. At his pro day, which was obviously over a decade ago, his 40-yard dash time was slightly below average at 5.33 and his explosiveness and agility numbers were mediocre.
He did, however, produce 30 bench press reps, and that strength has been something he’s showcased throughout his career.
Kelly is primarily a tackle and has started on both sides in recent years, although he has lined up at guard in the past.
He’s only played eight snaps at guard since 2015, but prior to that he had played over 500 snaps at guard at the NFL level and started games on both sides.
He’s also been an effective jumbo package tight end over the course of his career, with almost 200 career snaps in the role. He even caught two touchdown passes, one of which was in a postseason game.
Kelly battles well in pass protection and has posted decent numbers over the course of his career. Having given up five sacks in each of his first two seasons, Kelly has never given up more than two in any season since then.
In fact, in 2020, where he played 98 percent of the snaps, he didn’t give up any sacks. He didn’t give up any sacks in 240 snaps last year, either.
Kelly still does give up plenty of pressure, with his main weakness being staying in front of outside speed rushers.
Although he didn’t give up a sack in the 2022 season, he did give up this sack in preseason a few months ago:
Kelly has typically graded out well as a run blocker, and plenty of running backs have put up big numbers running behind him.
He is solid at the point of attack, showcasing the strength and power to drive his man off the line.
Kelly also has the ability to carve out running lanes by driving his man laterally and by angling him off.
While his strength and power are his best attributes, Kelly can climb to the second level and pick up a target effectively to seal them off.
He’s even shown the ability to get out on the move and take out a target in space, as he does on this pulling block:
Kelly’s teams have had some good success running behind him in short yardage situations. In the one year where he started every game, the Titans rushed for nine one-yard touchdowns.
Kelly perhaps doesn’t look like the sort of player who would be effective at getting out in front of a ball carrier on a screen pass, but he hustles well in these situations and can find and take out a target in space.
At 6’8” pad level and balance are obviously issues for Kelly, who does have a tendency to lunge and overbalance into a block at times, causing him to fall off blocks.
He is capable of excellent footwork and has an understanding of angles and an ability to reset his feet that can make him effective on reach blocks and setting the edge.
Kelly’s on-field discipline has been excellent with just 19 penalties in his career. He’s never had more than three penalties in a season.
11 of those penalties were for offensive holding, seven were false starts and one was an illegal formation.
Other than one snap on the field goal rush unit, Kelly’s only special teams contributions have been as a blocker on the placekicking unit. Within that role, he’s had one penalty and allowed pressure three times in his career.
With over a decade of experience and starts at every offensive line position apart from center, Kelly - who was a two-time all-Big Ten academic selection at Purdue - has good experience of dealing with blitz packages and moving from assignment to assignment.
Earlier on in his career, he was known to struggle in situations where he was involved in picking up stunts, but he’s been more comfortable with this as a tackle.
Kelly, who was a captain at Purdue, is regarded as a player with a good attitude and displays some nastiness in the way he finishes some of his blocks.
He’s shown toughness and a team-first attitude with his willingness to fill a variety of roles over the years.
Kelly has mostly stayed injury-free throughout his career, but he did miss four games in 2021 due to a back strain.
In training camp in 2022, he also had to have a minor knee procedure that kept him out of action for a while.
One of the reasons the Jets brought Kelly in would have been his familiarity with the Jets’ offensive system. He had three years in Tennessee with current Jets’ running game coordinator Keith Carter as his offensive line coach. Current Jets passing game coordinator Todd Downing was a tight ends coach for two of those years too.
Having been in the league for such a long time, Kelly has unsurprisingly been teammates with a bunch of current Jets. The list looks like this: Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, Billy Turner, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Amos, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Al Woods, Jake Hanson, Roger Saffold, Trevor Siemian and Malik Taylor.
He was also on the Eagles for a short while with current Jets general manager Joe Douglas on their front office staff, although he was traded shortly after Douglas was hired.
Kelly is a player who has been a reliable depth piece for virtually every team he’s ever played for, although there will obviously be concern over whether he is still capable of playing at that level having been in the league over a decade.
Beggars can’t be choosers though, and if the Jets’ situation on the offensive line gets any worse, a guy like Kelly with experience, a good body of work and scheme familiarity is about the best acquisition you can hope for to have in reserve.
This isn’t much more than a short-term emergency addition much as the likes of Cedric Ogbuehi, Mike Remmers and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif have been in recent years.
However, hopefully Kelly will hold his own if he gets called into action. At the very least, he should fare better than a youngster with zero regular season experience.