Take down those construction signs and stow away the hardhats: the 2016 Ole Miss football is no longer a rebuilding project. Chad Kelly announced Monday afternoon that he'll be returning to Oxford for his senior season, meaning the Rebels won't have to go looking for a new starting quarterback to run their high-powered offense.
After serious discussion with my family and Coach Freeze, I wanted my friends and fans to know that I’ll be staying at Ole Miss for my senior year. I look forward to completing my degree and graduating from Ole Miss. We’ve lost a lot of starters, but we’re still deep in talent, and I’m excited to get back to work with Coach Freeze, Coach Werner and the rest of the team.
It feels great to be a part of a winning team for a school with such a rich history, but I realize that there’s still a lot of learning and growing that I can do with this team. It will take the hard work and commitment of everyone involved, but I believe that we have a committed coaching staff and some of the best players in college football. I can’t wait to see what we can do together in 2016.
As a Kelly, I’ve been fortunate to grow up with a tight knit family. Coach Freeze and everyone here at Ole Miss have become a part of my family. We have the best students, the best staff, and just as importantly, the best fans in the country. Our goal this year is to win the SEC west and to compete for a National Championship.
Despite having just one season of major college football experience under his belt, Kelly thought long and hard about going pro after his junior season. Not that you can blame him -- after all, only Johnny Football has ever put up more total offensive yards in a single SEC season. His absurd arm strength and impressive athleticism make him an enticing prospect, particularly when you factor in the improved decision-making he showed down the stretch (he threw just one pick over the final four games).
But NFL teams aren't convinced just yet. Chad, who has stated his desire to take financial strain off of a father who works long hours managing a grocery in Pennsylvania, filed paperwork to get his NFL Draft grade. Apparently that grade wasn't high enough to convince him to jump to the pros.
Lingering "maturity issues" will no doubt be cited by the media as a contributing factor in pro teams grading Kelly low (and that certainly factors in -- after all, it was just over a year ago that Kelly was sitting in a Buffalo, N.Y. jail cell wondering if his football career was over), but this is mostly about on-field stuff. No matter how prolific Kelly was this season, 13 games in a spread system leaves NFL teams with plenty of guesswork, particularly with a guy that has height (6'2) and decision-making concerns.
"I think he would be a third- or fourth-round pick," an unnamed NFC general manager told The Buffalo News before the Sugar Bowl. "Ole Miss does not run a pro-style offense, so what he accomplished in one year doesn't indicate enough for me. He should go back, get more SEC experience and continue to show he's on the right path off the field."
Even though he threw just one pick over the final four games, Kelly still has a somewhat unmerited rep as a gunslinger.
"He has all the tools, physically and mentally," former NFL QB Trent Dilfer said. "He plays a little too reckless right now, but can grow out of that."
In fact, every expert that The Buffalo News spoke to for that pre-Sugar Bowl story -- Dilfer, ESPN's Mel Kiper, former Texas coach Mack Brown, Archie Manning, two anonymous NFL execs and Swag's uncle, Hall of Famer Jim Kelly -- all recommended that Chad return to Ole Miss.
"There's no doubt he's got an NFL arm, big-time. Trust me," said Uncle Jim. "But he's got to get his fundamentals down a little better. He can be so much better with his footwork."