A college kid smoking weed isn’t a big deal. Despite the moral lip pursing of the sport’s major organizing bodies, a football player smoking weed isn’t a big deal either, especially if that player’s season has been ended prematurely by a shredded knee. Indeed, Chad Kelly enjoying some bud in private should be nobody’s business but his own. The unfortunate reality, however, is that a recently released Snapchat photo allegedly showing the Ole Miss quarterback rolling a blunt will invariably be used as evidence against him in the bogus moral judiciary of the NFL Draft.
The photo, which shows Chad seated at a table with all of the accoutrements of a smoke session—a sack of fast food munchies, cigarillos and what appears to be a baggie of weed—began making its way around the internet after Barstool Sports tweeted it out on Thursday night.
Swag Kelly is rehabbing like a pro pic.twitter.com/EknqQA4rpc— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) November 18, 2016
Like it or not, that image is a threat to Kelly’s draft stock, which had already taken a major hit when he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee two weeks ago against Georgia Southern, effectively ending the senior’s Ole Miss career.
That wouldn’t be the case if this was a standalone incident, of course—for all of their finger wagging, NFL teams realize that players smoke. But this photo hurts Kelly for the same reason the Atlanta hotel incident hurt Robert Nkemdiche: it feeds a preexisting narrative.
Obviously, a photo of an alleged smoke session isn’t nearly as dramatic as tumbling out of a third-story window. But what dropped Nkemdiche from a sure-fire top-five pick to the bottom of the first round wasn’t the fall itself, it was the larger reputation of Rob as idiosyncratic and unpredictable. It was another brick in a wall that included a troubled brother, an eccentric personality, a strangely existential Twitter account and (gasp!) interests that lay outside the church of football.
For Kelly, the photo will add to the perception of his immaturity, a rep he’s struggled to distance himself from since he was booted off of Clemson’s team in 2014 after a sideline temper tantrum in a spring game. Five months after being shown the door by Dabo Swinney and just days after being offered a second chance by Hugh Freeze, Chad furthered the narrative by getting himself arrested outside of a bar in Buffalo.
Effusive praise from Freeze and incredible play on the field had helped quiet that narrative, but it kicked back into gear in October after fans and media overreacted to a relatively innocuous incident that saw Chad run onto a high school football field while a fight broke out on top of his brother. Kelly seems to have undergone a significant and genuine maturation process in Oxford, but the unfortunate reality is that the field-storming incident and a photo of weed could undo that in the eyes of judgmental NFL scouts.
Not that Kelly isn’t culpable for what amounts to a very stupid act. It was just seven months ago that he watched his star left tackle slide in the draft because of drug use caught on camera. Smoke if you want, but have the sense not to do it where some bro with an iPhone can add it to his Snapchat story.
Still, the biggest threat to Kelly’s draft stock remains his right knee. How he recovers from surgery will be the most significant factor in when Chad, who was projected by CBS Sports as a second rounder before the injury, will come off the board.