Tennessee’s previous coaching staff receives a lot of flack for misusing players during their tenure. The most egregious example both fans and media point to is Alvin Kamara. While at Tennessee, Kamara flashed his potential but never truly realized it, and that led to him being drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft and not any higher. Now, Kamara is the Rookie of the Year and seems to have an extremely bright future ahead of him.
Butch Jones and his staff are blamed for not taking full advantage of Kamara’s talents while at Tennessee. And now according to a renowned scout, they may be blamed for wasting another running back’s talent as well.
Chris Landry, a veteran NFL scout who has actually appeared on our RTI Podcast before, was discussing sleeper NFL draft prospects in a post on his site. And in that post, Landry broke down Tennessee running back John Kelly. And Landry was both impressed with what he saw and disappointed in his usage with the Vols.
“Kelly doesn’t have the talent of an Alvin Kamara, but like several other Tennessee running backs before him, he has a chance to be a better pro than he was in college,” Landry writes. “Kelly is an explosive playmaker who was criminally underused by the Vols, and his versatile skill set still allowed him to tally over 1,000 total yards and nine touchdowns in 2017. He currently projects as a late Day 3 selection, but a strong pro day and showing at the combine could see that stock rise.”
Though Kelly was undeniably the workhorse in the backfield for the Vols this past season, fans were still critical of how he was used because of his lack of touches in critical moments or in the red zone. Kelly failed to get a touch at the goal line in a pivotal moment when Tennessee took on Florida, and he wasn’t given nearly enough touches in the red zone against South Carolina either.
Not only that, but he wasn’t given a chance to do anything on offense in 2016 until Jalen Hurd got hurt and then ultimately left the team. Granted, both Hurd and Kamara were ahead of Kelly on the depth chart, but he had all of three carries for 18 yards in the five games before the Vols took on Texas A&M and Hurd sat out that game.
Kelly finished the 2017 season with 189 carries for 778 yards and nine touchdowns while also adding 37 catches for 299 yards. His 226 touches were by far the most of any non-quarterback on the team. The next closest was Ty Chandler’s 81 total touches.