Not even an hour into play on Sunday afternoon and the body count seemed unprecedented. So many big names effectively had their seasons end while many others remain hanging in the balance. I expect this year to be an especially brutal one from a health perspective, but no amount of preparation had myself ready for that blood bath. If you somehow dodged all of those bullets then consider yourself lucky, but keep your head on a swivel Week 3. I imagine most of you weren’t so lucky, so the approach I’m recommending this week is that of survival – and that’s why I’m writing about this particular player this week.
Joshua Kelley is a 5’10 215 pound downhill accelerating tank of a human being. He is a former walk-on that had to earn his work the hard way at UCLA. He uses his size combined with those special acceleration skills to win at the point of contact. He runs through it, seemingly always falling forward as he is a very smart, patient cutback runner. He’s too big and powerful for defensive backs to handle one-on-one, too quick for linebackers that don’t have the perfect pursuit angle, and he does not require much room to operate.
Between this stacked draft class and skepticism about his ability to pass protect he fell to April’s 4th round in the NFL Draft. The Chargers clearly had a role in in mind for him when they pulled the trigger though (sorry, Justin Jackson). For all the talents of presumed starter Austin Ekeler a short yardage back he is not (just 2-for-9 on goal-to-go attempts in 2019). The downhill big-bodied Kelley entered the league primed to take those carries that previously belonged to now-Denver Bronco Melvin Gordon. Head Coach Anthony Lynn reiterated this in August and as it turns out it was not just coach-speak either.
It was easy to dismiss what he did Week 1 as he accumulated just 18 snaps (24% of total), but I should have noted that he touched the ball on 67% of those snaps. His stat line of 12 carries for 60 yards and a score caused his name to bubble towards the top of waiver wires a week ago, but with such a small snap count I thought he (rightfully) remained on most waiver wires. The short yardage back on an under manned Chargers team can’t possibly be a week-to-week asset in our game…right? Is this Chargers team really under-manned? And do they have more in mind for this talented rookie? It took a pre-game injury to Tyrod Taylor to turn the lightbulb on, but after a last second lost to the Super Bowl champs this team is one to take seriously. Rookie Justin Herbert is clearly ready for the spotlight and even if he predictably has some rookie growing pains this defense is strong enough to keep them in games anyway. And yes, I would be a whole lot more encouraged about Kelley’s prospects if he were coming off a game with more than 2.7 yards per carry, but – the volume, 23 carries and an electric 35 yard catch out of the backfield. With that sort of workload combined with his skills, the production will soon follow.
And what better week to do it than a Week 3 meeting with the hapless Panthers? This run defense was exposed throughout 2019, lost bodies over the offseason, and has been steamrolled in their first two games of 2020. A week after Josh Jacobs ran up 139 yards and three scores on them the Leonard Fournette/Ronald Jones combo net 143 yards and three scores of their own. All of you fantasy managers out there feeling the burn of losing a starting running back Week 2, this is your remedy. Sure, in an ideal world managers in our game aren’t taking a week-to-week approach at the running back position, but there hasn’t been anything ideal about the year 2020 — adapt or die. There may be some rough matchups ahead for the rookie in the weeks that follow, but that’s an issue to revisit then. To successfully navigate this week, Kelley’s your guy.
This Week’s Flavor of the Week: Pepperoni Pizza.
There isn’t anything flashy about him, but he serves this week’s craving. And at this particular point in the season, that’s all you’re really looking for. There will be a time and a place for a fancier meal, but there are only so many upside prospects you can stash on your bench and you already have one in Laviska Shenault simmering. This week is about building the bridge to get you there and that guy is Joshua Kelley.