ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Chad Kelly might have entered the NFL as Mr. Irrelevant, but he's become the summer football fling for many of the Denver Broncos’ faithful as he inches his way up the depth chart.
After a strong performance in a training camp scrimmage and one of the few bright spots in a dismal preseason opener, Broncos coach Vance Joseph moved Kelly into the No. 2 spot at quarterback Monday, past former first round pick Paxton Lynch, as Case Keenum's backup.
“He deserves a chance to be the two right now," Joseph said. “ … It’s really more about what Chad’s done, honestly. He’s played with poise, he’s played with confidence, he moved the ball for us Saturday. He’s done that since the spring. It’s his turn to be the 2, it’s his turn."
Kelly, who has spent the offseason program and early part of training camp as the No. 3 behind Keenum and Lynch, finished 14-of-21 for 177 yards and two touchdowns in the otherwise nondescript 42-38 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
By the end of the game, Broncos' fans were chanting Kelly's name. Kelly will work as Keenum’s backup at least through the week, Joseph said. That includes two days worth of practices against the Chicago Bears to go with Saturday night’s game against Chicago.
“I wouldn’t have gotten there if it wasn’t for my teammates," Kelly said of the promotion. "Those guys made the plays, they got me in the right protections and the guys with the ball in their hands made plays. Like I said, it’s not just me that got to that position. It’s those other guys around me that helped me get there."
Kelly and Lynch are both trying to convince the Broncos they don’t need to sign a veteran quarterback in the weeks to come. Lynch had lost back-to-back training camp battles to Trevor Siemian for the starting job in the previous two seasons and now has failed to hold off Kelly for the backup job.
“Obviously (Lynch) is disappointed," Joseph said. “He understands that it’s a performance business. He has great potential, great physical potential, but it’s got to equal performance eventually, he understands that. It’s a performance league, everything we do, it’s graded and it’s counted."
An ACL injury in his final season at Ole Miss and some off-the-field concerns, including an altercation at his former high school, saw Kelley drop down many teams' draft boards. But it was a pre-draft conversation from one Hall of Famer to another -- from Jim Kelly, Chad’s uncle, to John Elway -- that helped entice the Broncos to select Kelly with the 253rd, and final, pick of the 2017 draft.
A wrist injury on his pro day eventually sidelined Chad Kelly for his rookie season and he spent the year on injured reserve. But he has worked hard this offseason, consistently drawing rave reviews from inside the Broncos’ complex.
Now is his best chance to show the Broncos he can evolve from “a playmaker when things break down," as Joseph has called him, to a consistently productive option from the pocket, who could run the offense if Keenum were injured.
"Whatever I can do I’m going to keep on working extremely hard," Kelly said. “Whether it’s out here on the field or it’s in the film room, I have to make sure I stay on top of it. When bullets are flying, make sure you execute."
Those who saw his potential in the 2017 draft pointed to Ole Miss’ win over Alabama in 2015 when Kelly threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns, as well as Ole Miss’ loss to Alabama in 2016 when Kelly finished with 421 yards passing and three touchdowns. In the end, Joseph wouldn’t commit beyond this week, offering the “depth chart is fluid, it rewards guys who are playing well.’’
And Kelly likely still has plenty of work to do to keep the Broncos from signing another veteran QB. But Kelly has already won the popular vote in that regard, given how he was serenaded during the fourth quarter this past Saturday night.
“You just have to work hard," Kelly said. “That’s really what it is. Even the best ones are still working extremely hard. They don’t know everything. Me being in my second year, I don’t know anything."
And when asked if his uncle had any advice after Saturday night’s game, Chad Kelly said: “He just said to stay humble, to keep working extremely hard and he’s going to call me later this week."