The Los Angeles Chargers said goodbye to former Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon this offseason. Could rookie fourth-round pick Joshua Kelley out of UCLA help replace Gordon this year? Here are Kelley’s odds at Mybookie to win 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year as well as the Chargers’ over/under win total.
The Chargers selected Kelley with the No. 112 pick in April’s draft. He began his college career with the UC Davis Aggies before transferring to UCLA. He ended his UC Davis career with 1,139 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons. As part of his release from the school, Kelley was permitted to transfer to just two schools in California: UCLA and USC. He also received interest from Boise State.
Kelley signed as a walk-on with the Bruins and served on the scout team in 2017 while sitting out the year as a redshirt due to transfer rules. In 2018, he played in 11 games and was a starter in nine. He ran for the 10th-most yards in school single-season history (1,243) and had six 100-yard rushing games on the year (124-at Colorado, 125 v. Washington, 157 at Cal, 136 v. Arizona, 161 at Oregon, 289 v. USC) highlighted by a 289-yard effort against USC which is the most in the rivalry game by a back from either team.
His 40 carries against the Trojans was the third-most in school history. Kelley rushed for at least one touchdown in each of the last eight games of the season and ranked fourth in the Pac-12 and eighth in the NCAA in rushing yards/game (113.0). Kelley was named team MVP.
Last year, Kelley started all 11 games. He became the eighth running back in UCLA history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. His total of 1,060 yards rushing ranked 20th on the UCLA single-season list. Kelley had four 100-yard games on the season (127-Arizona, 176-Stanford, 164-Arizona State, 126-Colorado) and the Bruins put together a streak of five straight 200-yard rushing games for the first time since 1978.
Kelley scored a career best four rushing touchdowns against Arizona State. 24 points scored vs. the Sun Devils tied for the most points scored in a game by a Pac-12 player last year. He was second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards/game (96.4) and seventh in all-purpose yards/game (102.8). Kelley was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy as the nation’s top walk-on or former walk-on player.
At the Senior Bowl in January, Kelley put up an impressive showing and had 15 touches for 105 yards. Born in Inglewood, Calif., Kelley grew up in Lancaster and now gets to stay home in L.A. with the Bolts.
Kelley is 5-foot-11, 212 pounds and immediately steps in as competition for Justin Jackson (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) as an early-down complement to the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Ekeler. Kelley’s efficiency was weak on 229 carries and 17 targets at UCLA last season, but it was much better in 2018, and he showed very well athletically at the combine. That included a 4.49 40-yard dash and a position-best 6.95 three cone drill.
Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said, “All three of [Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, and Joshua Kelley] are going to share the load.” Gordon leaves behind 13.5 carries per game, a total that Jackson and the fourth-round rookie could come close to combining for.
Kelley isn’t simply a short-yardage specialist. His 4.49-second 40-yard-dash speed also makes him a home-run threat. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn views the rookie as a potential Pro Bowl talent. While Kelley has the power to run through defenders, which would come in handy in those situations, he also has good change-of-direction, vision, burst, decent speed and passing game ability.
“We feel like he can get to that point, I can tell you that,” Lynn said of Kelley’s Pro Bowl potential.