Alabama in the Pros

Ryan Kelly neutralizes Texans’ defense, helps Colts advance in AFC playoffs

© Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

He was the most intelligent offensive lineman at the University of Alabama after Barrett Jones, and Ryan Kelly has continued his success as a professional athlete. 

For the 18th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, Kelly has anchored the front line of the Indianapolis Colts back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. In his third season at center, he has helped Andrew Luck have a huge year. The seventh-year quarterback from Stanford University accounts for 4,593 passing yards with 39 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. 

While most analysts felt the Colts were a year away from making a big push in the postseason, Kelly powered the team to a 10-6 mark – giving it the sixth and final seed in the AFC playoff picture. Indianapolis battled Houston on Wildcard Weekend and behind Kelly, its offense achieved balance in a 21-7 win. Luck had a clean pocket to work with as he totaled 222 yards passing with two scores, while Marlon Mack posted 148 yards rushing with one touchdown. 

RELATED: Amari Cooper pushes Cowboys to second round of NFC playoffs

Regardless of the Texans having J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, no one sacked Luck and the Colts amassed 422 yards offensively on 67 plays. With Kelly, it converted 9 of 14 third downs and constantly kept pressure on Houston.

The 6-foot-4, 313-pounder was one of nineteen unanimous All-Americans under Nick Saban at Alabama.

He cleared the way for a 1,000-yard rusher and a 3,000-yard passer in 2015 – en route to the Crimson Tide winning a national championship. In running behind Kelly, Derrick Henry turned in 2,219 yards with 28 scores and earned the Heisman Memorial Trophy that season. For his efforts, the Ohio native took home the Rimington Trophy (nation’s top center) and Jacobs Blocking Trophy for the Southeastern Conference.  

Kelly and the Colts will face top-seeded Kansas City next week.

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

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