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Sports

Last Pick of Draft far from Irrelevant: Kelly Goes to Denver

Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly, a talented player with a history of off-the-field issues and injuries, was the 253rd and final selection Saturday by the Denver Broncos

Fans pose for photographs during the 2017 NFL football draft, Saturday, April 29, 2017, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, photo: AP/Matt Rourke
5 months ago

PHILADELPHIA – The final day of the NFL draft began with an impromptu rendition of “Fly Eagles Fly” by former Philadelphia star safety Brian Dawkins and ended with a player who was far from irrelevant in college being picked last.

Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly, a talented player with a history of off-the-field issues and injuries, was the 253rd and final selection Saturday by the Denver Broncos.

The final pick gets honored as Mr. Irrelevant, but Kelly was a player who could have been selected in the first three rounds if not for all his problems.

Kelly started his college career as a highly rated recruit at Clemson. He was dismissed from the team after being a disciplinary problem and went to junior college before landing at Ole Miss. In two seasons with the Rebels, he passed for 6,800 yards and 50 touchdowns. He also threw 21 interceptions,

Last season was cut short by a torn knee ligament and then in the offseason draft process he suffered a wrist injury.

Kelly’s pick was a surprising end to draft day that started with some fun.

Former Eagles Troy Vincent, now in charge of the NFL’s football operations, Brian Westbrook and Dawkins defended their turf. Dawkins sang, then Westbrook dared anyone representing the Cowboys to stand in front of the big crowd.

“If anybody from Dallas steps to this podium in my city, we are going to give them a true Philadelphia welcome,” Westbrook promised in response to former Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson taunting the fans when announcing a Dallas pick on Friday night.

Oh yeah, there were some selections in between Dawkins and other former Eagles stars opening the last day of a draft in Philadelphia that drew more than 100,000 fans over three days.

Actually, dozens of them, starting with a Cheesehead going to the Packers at the top of the fourth round. Green Bay stayed in-state, taking Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel, who comes off a season shortened by a broken foot, but was a standout for the Badgers before getting hurt.

Banners hand from the Franklin Institute during the 2017 NFL football draft, Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Philadelphia. Photo: AP/Matt Rourke

Most notable was a concentration on running backs, including Oklahoma’s highly productive Samaje Perine to Washington, Utah’s Joe Williams to San Francisco, NCAA record setter Donnel Pumphrey of San Diego State to Philadelphia, Wayne Gallman of national champion Clemson to the Giants and South Florida’s Marlon Mack to Indianapolis.

Perine set the FBS rushing mark with 427 yards in a game against Kansas — yes, even against the awful Jayhawks it counts.

Williams quit football before the 2016 season before last season. When Utah was ravaged by injuries to its runners, the coaching staff persuaded him to come back. He made the All-Pac-12 team.

Pumphrey seems like a terrific fit for the Eagles because he has similar skills to versatile Darren Sproles, soon to turn 34. The 5-foot-9 Pumphrey led FBS in rushing with 2,133 yards and also scored 17 TDs, and he can catch, too. He left college as the FBS career leader in rushing yards.

“I look forward to building a relationship and looking up to him and getting different pointers on how I can get better each day,” Pumphrey said of Sproles. “So, I’m excited.”

Oklahoma’s All-America wide receiver Dede Westbrook, who finished fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting, went to Jacksonville. Westbrook was twice accused of domestic violence before he came to Oklahoma as a junior college transfer.

“Obviously he’s had some issues earlier in his career we feel that’s behind him, and it has to be behind him,” GM Dave Caldwell said. “… With coach (Doug) Marrone and … (Tom) Coughlin here there’s no margin for error for him off the field.”

The Steelers, perhaps hoping to replicate the Cowboys’ success with the 135th overall slot last year — Dallas took Dak Prescott, and the Mississippi State quarterback became the Offensive Rookie of the Year — grabbed another Southeastern Conference quarterback, Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs, at that spot. Ben Roethlisberger has hinted about retiring in the near future, though certainly not this year, and Pittsburgh must put a succession plan in place.

Through five rounds, the only other quarterback selected was Pitt’s Nate Peterman by Buffalo.

Denver began Round 5 by taking Michigan tight end Jake Butt, a potential first-rounder until he tore up his knee in the Orange Bowl. Butt could miss much of 2017.

BARRY WILNER

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