The running back position is absolutely loaded with talent and household names heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. In a year when a running back is being seriously considered as the No. 1 overall pick, the bar is raised for everyone.
The evolution of offensive schemes at the NFL level has sparked a change in need at the running back position. Teams are looking for elusive-yet-powerful backs who can stay on the field for three downs and line up anywhere on the field.
Former Tennessee Volunteer John Kelly fits that mold.
Despite being underutilized (eight games with fewer than 20 carries) during a tumultuous season in Knoxville, Kelly was still able to post more than 1,000 all-purpose yards in 2017.
He's a different type of player than former teammate and current New Orleans Saint running back Alvin Kamara. Kelly is a strong, compact runner who does his best work in traffic between the tackles. His vision combined with his agility allows him to find holes where others may not see them. He also possesses tremendous power and ability to break tackles for his size (5-9, 205). The end result is often big chunks of yardage. Like Kamara, however, he also emerged as a legitimate pass-catching threat in 2017. Kelly hauled in a team-leading 37 catches for 299 yards.
Kelly does not possess game-breaking speed, but he is fast enough for the position to demand respect and attention every time he's on the field. Those looking for a current NFL player to compare his talent and skill set to may want to look at New England running back Rex Burkhead. The two are similar in size and style, with Kelly appearing to have a slight advantage in speed.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, keep an eye on Kelly's numbers in the speed drills. If he can post better-than-expected times while also displaying dependable hands, you could see him rise from his currently projected late-round spot up into the third or fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation and Bleacher Report. He has covered the Big Ten Conference extensively throughout his career. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.