Undrafted Edition: Developing Quarterback Cole Kelley | Washington Commanders


By Adam Aniba


Washington solved their quarterback issue, for the short term at least, when they traded for Carson Wentz. Whether or not the former Eagles and Colts signal caller is the long term solution, remains to be seen.


Fans and Ron Rivera were delighted when former UNC QB Sam Howell fell to the 5th round, giving Washington a legit backup QB alongside Taylor Heinicke (on the final year of a 2-year deal).


Developing talent on the practice squad is key for longterm roster success. In the age of free agency and a hard salary cap, losing star players is a reality. In a perfect world for Commanders fans, Wentz has a solid year with Howell seeing snaps in relief duty at some point during the season.


It's likely Heinicke holds on to the QB2 job for '22 and hits free agency in '23. In the meantime, developing a competent signal caller on the practice squad would be a wise move for Washington.


Southeastern Louisiana QB Cole Kelley was the only signal caller signed as an undrafted free agent post-draft by Washington. The QB is more than just an intriguing small school prospect and brings his prior experience playing in the SEC to Washington.


Cole Kelley

6'7" 249 lbs | QB | SLU

Career Ark (18 games-6 starts) 122/218 1,493 yds 13 TDs & 9 ints

*Rushing- 81 att 147 yds 5 TDs

Career SLU (29 games) 563/786 7,112 yds 59 TDs & 12 ints

*Rushing- 278 att 636 yds for 29 TDs

2021 (13 games) 406/552 5,124 yds 44 TDs & 10 ints

*Rushing- 113 att 491 yards for 16 TDs


Background

Kelley was a highly coveted HS quarterback while playing for Teurlings Catholic HS in Lafayette, LA. As a senior, Kelley was ranked as the #2 rated QB in Louisiana by ESPN after making the All District and All-State teams on multiple occasions during his career. During his junior and senior seasons, Kelley threw for 6,183 and 55 Tds, while rushing for another 11 TDs. The TCHS prospect also averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds on the basketball squad.


Kelley was recruited by Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Tulane, Louisiana, Southern MIss and Arkansas. The TCHS quarterback ultimately committed to Arkansas and would redshirt his '16 freshman season. Although he spent his first season learning the playbook with zero snaps at quarterback, Kelley was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll


In '17, Kelley was active for 9 games with 4 starts. He accounted for 1,038 passing yards for 8 Tds and 4 interceptions, adding 2 more rushing touchdowns. The Razorback QB was only the second Arkansas freshman in history to record 8 passing touchdowns. His 4 starts came against Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Coastal Carolina.


Kelley earned SEC Freshman of the Week for his efforts vs Ole MIss in '17, in which he engineered a comeback victory during a 24 point deficit. During the 38-37 victory over Ole MIss, Kelley finished the contest with 189 yards passing for 3 Tds to only 1 interception and 1 rushing touchdown (15 yard scramble).


The Razorback freshman displayed how clutch he could be, accounting for 14 total 1st-downs with 4 coming on designed runs out of shotgun. Kelley was the first freshman QB in school history to account for 3 passing touchdowns and 1 rushing in a game.


The following week, Kelley engineered another comeback victory vs Coastal Carolina. Kelley capped off the game with a 1 yard TD scramble with less than two minutes in the 4th quarter, enroute to a 39-38 victory. On the last drive, Kelley marched the Razorbacks 62-yards downfield, from their own 22-yard line with just over 4 minutes remaining in regulation.

Unfortunately, Kelley was arrested later in '17 and charged with a DUI, nearly ending his playing career. Following the arrest, Razorbacks HC Bret Bielema had the following to say to USA Today sports.

"He's going to have to do a lot of growing up in a short amount of time. However long the suspension is, through this week for sure, through Saturday, I think he's got to understand what life is like without football and also address all the other (legal) issues."

Fast forward to the 2021 Spring & Fall season, in which Kelly finished with 5,124 yds passing yards with 44 TDs and added 491 yards rushing. Kelley dominated the Southland Conference earning the FCS Walter Payton Award for the nations best offensive statistical player (Non-FBS).


PROS

  • An asset in quick game/uptempo situations

  • Strong arm with impressive velocity

  • Size and release point, led to a minimal amount of tipped balls at the line of scrimmage

  • Has some Tim Tebow in him and routinely trucked defenders in short yardage/goal line situations

  • A filed general with an in depth understanding of situational awareness

  • Clutch ability (engineered multiple 4th quarter comeback wins during his career)


CONS

  • Deep ball accuracy was an issue at times

  • Prone to telegraphing his reads when favors a receiver/side of the field

  • Although possess an NFL ready arm, was guilty of under throwing his intended targets at times

  • DUI is a slight concern (no repeated legal issues/arrests since the incident)

  • Internal clock has been an issue vs athletic fronts and needs to better anticipate edge pressure

  • Anticipation throws were too frequently off the mark and requires refinement/NFL coaching



Outlook

As mentioned, the ideal scenario for Washington and Kelley is for the signal caller to spend the year on the practice squad. Signing the UDFA QB was a move for the future, with the former Razorback getting a shot to be the backup or QB3 in '23.


If the situation does arise and multiple injuries at QB occur, Kelley has the ability to come in and manage the game. The reality is Kelley will get a look in the pre-season, but will be a valuable asset running the scout team when needed.


Kelley has the opportunity to learn the ropes from a veteran, while not feeling the pressure to compete immediately. All eyes will be on Wentz and Howell during training camp, but fans shouldn't be surprised to see Kelley make a few splash plays adding more hope for the QB position down the road.



*Games Watched- 10/14/17 vs Alabama, 10/28/17 vs Ole Miss,11/4/17 vs CCU, 9/1/18 vs E.Illinois, 9/4/21 vs N.Bama, 9/11 vs La Tech, 10/16 vs HBU, 11/18 vs Nicholls St, 11/27 vs FL A&M & 12/4 vs J.Madison



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