NFL bloodlines. Four years of starting experience. Size, length, and athleticism. There are few boxes Stanford CB Kyu Blu Kelly doesn’t tick, but is his 2023 NFL Draft scouting report worthy of early-round consideration?
Kyu Blu Kelly NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Stanford
- Current Year: Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’0″, 191 pounds
- Arm Length: 32″
- Hand Size: 9 3/4″
As the son of a former USC Trojan and 11-year NFL veteran, it’s no surprise Kelly isn’t your average college athlete. He attended high school powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Nevada, winning state championships in 2017 and 2018. He wasn’t just along for the ride either, earning back-to-back first-team All-State honors on defense.
Across his last two seasons, Kelly generated five interceptions, seven pass breakups, two blocked kicks, and even added 174 yards and a TD as a receiver. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Kelly received All-State and MVP recognition in track and field in 2017.
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When the final whistle blew on his high school career, Kelly was the fourth-ranked recruit in Nevada, with the 247Sports Composite giving him a three-star billing. Due to his proximity to the West Coast, nearly all Pac-12 schools sought Kelly’s services — except his father’s alma mater.
In the end, Kelly chose to commit to Stanford the summer before his senior year. He’s been a staple in the Cardinal secondary ever since, starting in all but three of his 38 career games. And they weren’t production-less starts, either, with three INTs and 23 pass breakups to his name.
Kyu Blu Kelly Scouting Report
Prior to last season, head coach David Shaw had this to say about Kelly: “He’ll be up there with the best guys after this season.” Is Kelly a top CB prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft? Let’s dive into his scouting report to find out.
Where Kelly Wins
When you fire up Kelly’s tape, it’s hard not to vault him up your board. At 6’0″ with excellent arm length (32″), he’s a tough beat for bigger receivers. And yet, Kelly sports the smoothness and fluidity of a smaller corner, allowing him to keep pace in the slot (where he had 100+ snaps in 2021) against shiftier opponents.
The Stanford CB faces little resistance flipping his hips and has impressively quick feet to mirror releases. He doesn’t look out of place in his backpedal, staying low in his stance. And Kelly’s short-area quickness isn’t typical of an over-6’0″ corner. He explodes off one foot and drives to close space, both against the pass and coming downhill in run defense.
In press, Kelly plays with proper technique, shooting a one-arm strike inside the WR’s frame. He’ll employ a kick-step to remain on top of the route and maintain eye discipline on the hips to read the WR’s tempo and intention. That eye discipline remains throughout the route, as Kelly won’t look back for the ball unless he’s in phase.
However, we still haven’t arrived at Kelly’s trademark trait. The Stanford CB is one of the best with the ball in the air, owning explosive numbers that match the tape (36″ vertical and 10’11” broad jump).
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He attacks the catch point aggressively, expecting to come down with the ball — or, at the very least, make sure his opponent doesn’t. He plays through the hands, forcing the receiver to make a difficult catch around his long arms. Just watch Kelly’s 2021 game against USC and Drake London for a perfect visual.
Although Kelly has potential in man-heavy schemes, he may be best suited in zone. His intelligence shines, as he’s constantly communicating with fellow DBs, ensuring no WR goes uncovered. Additionally, Kelly has a good feel for his zone and keeps relationships in off-coverage.
With his seemingly instant read-and-react ability, he can crash down on unsuspecting WRs, either making a play on the ball or conceding little to no yards after the catch. Plus, the Stanford CB is a solid tackler who doesn’t hesitate to lay his body on the line.
Kelly’s Areas for Improvement
Kelly is a rather clean prospect, but there are areas to improve. In off-coverage, he’s prone to flipping his hips too early and turning and burning upfield, likely due to his limited deep speed (although he ran a respectable 4.52 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine).
This affords room for twitchier WRs to operate under him for easy grabs. He’s vastly refined this facet since his freshman and sophomore years. Yet, the Stanford CB can better stay patient and use his feet to keep on top of routes.
The biggest challenge Kelly faces is his ability to carry routes vertically. He can be late in switching from his backpedal or a side shuffle to crossing over and taking off downfield. Furthermore, he doesn’t have elite long speed or acceleration to work his way back in phase. Against speedy WRs, once Kelly is a step behind, it usually stays that way.
Another significant aspect of the Stanford CB’s game that hinders his shutdown ability is an absence of play strength. Kelly has the frame to add more muscle without ostensibly depleting his coveted athleticism.
However, larger WRs can outmuscle him along routes, gaining position due to pure physicality. And while he has a good number of pass deflections, he struggles to get his head around, choosing to keep his eyes on the WR. He left a lot of INTs and PBUs on the table.
Moreover, Kelly struggles to shed blocks and finish tackles due to his wiry frame. It doesn’t help that he occasionally takes poor angles to ball carriers in space. Even shorter WRs can get inside his pads and remove him from run plays. While Kelly has the short-area quickness, football IQ, and technique to man the slot, he must improve as a run defender and tackler to hold up there in the NFL.
Current Draft Projection for Stanford CB Kyu Blu Kelly
There’s a lot to like about Kelly, and I view him as a locked-in late-Day 2/early-Day 3 prospect. His movement skills, height/length, outstanding technique, and eye discipline make him a relatively safe selection.
He’s a well-coached CB with production that matches his ball skills (when he turns to find the football). Clubs that run a lot of zone will have Kelly higher on their boards, and some may like him more in the slot. However, he isn’t perfect. And, while no prospect is, his flaws limit his ceiling.
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A lack of top-end speed and overall physicality will lead to some growing pains and limit his margin for error. In college, he could get away with falling for the occasional double-move or flipping his hips too quickly. But in the big leagues, that won’t be the case.
Nevertheless, NFL teams know what they are getting with Kelly, and that’s a damn fine corner who you can rely on in the secondary. He may not have first-round-caliber tools, but his overall profile is that of a third- or fourth-round pick. And with proper seasoning, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kelly start early in his career.