Tennessee had several players declare early for the NFL Draft after the 2016 season. And now one Vol off the 2017 roster has declared his intention to forgo his senior season and enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
Junior running back John Kelly announced via Instagram on Friday, December 29th that he won’t be returning to the Vols for the 2018 season and will instead go to the NFL draft. Kelly started 11 of Tennessee’s 12 games this season at running back and ran for 778 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 4.1 yards per carry. He also caught 37 passes for 299 yards.
I’d like to take this opportunity to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft and thank so many that were instrumental in getting me to where I am today. From my time in Detroit to my collegiate career at Tennessee, words can’t express my gratitude to everyone that has helped me throughout my journey. To my friends and family, I want to thank you for always being there for me. To my teammates, and coaching staff, I want to thank you for always pushing me to better myself and grow on and off the field. To Vol Nation, I want to thank you for all of your support through all of the highs and lows. I will always call Neyland Stadium home. As I take the next step in my career, I will never forget where it all began. Detroit and Tennessee will always be a part of me at every step of this journey and I promise to always represent you well. With everything you’ve given to me, that’s the least I can do for you all. From the bottom of my heart – thank you, all. Go Vols!
Kelly burst onto the scene in 2016 as a sophomore when he was forced into a much larger role than anticipated. He was Tennessee’s No. 2 back behind Alvin Kamara when the Vols took on Texas A&M because Jalen Hurd was hurt. Then Kelly had to play significant snaps against South Carolina as Hurd sat out the second half. Hurd would transfer after that game, leaving Kamara and Kelly as the main two backs on the roster.
Kelly would make his first career start in 2016 as he earned the starting nod when the Vols hosted Tennessee Tech. He led Tennessee’s running backs with 630 rushing yards on just 98 carries as a sophomore.
He entered the 2017 season as the unquestioned starter for the Vols at running back, and he had a stellar start to his junior campaign. Kelly amassed 450 rushing yards, 182 receiving yards, and six total touchdowns in Tennessee’s first four contests against Georgia Tech, Indiana State, Florida, and UMass.
But Tennessee’s offense became a mess down the stretch of the 2017 season, and Kelly would never total more than 79 rushing yards in a single contest in his final seven games.
Kelly finished his Tennessee career with 1,573 rushing yards, 350 receiving yards, and 15 total touchdowns. He averaged 5.2 yards per touch in his 33 games he played for the Vols.