Breaking Down Tommy Kelly's Future Impact with the New England Patriots

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Breaking Down Tommy Kelly's Future Impact with the New England Patriots
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Over the last few years, the New England Patriots have started an assortment of defensive tackles next to All-Pro Vince Wilfork.

In 2010, there was Gerard Warren, Ron Brace, Myron Pryor and Landon Cohen. Then in 2011 and 2012, there was Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick.

None of whom are still in Foxborough.

Instead, 10-year NFL pro Tommy Kelly is.

When the 6’6”, 310-pound Kelly signed with the Patriots in April, he was seen as quality depth on the interior. But at 32 years old, there was hesitation when it came to casting the ex-Oakland Raider as a starter for 2013.

Kelly was released by the Raiders this March after a down year when he totaled one sack and 45 tackles on his way to being ranked the No. 74 defensive tackle by Pro Football Focus. Yet as the Mississippi State product sat on the market this offseason, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick saw little risk in inking the former Pro Bowler to a two-year deal worth up to $5 million.

The signing was seen as great financial value in contrast with the seven-year, $50.5 million deal he garnered in 2008.

And as far as his influence goes, Kelly is seen as a grounded veteran.

During OTAs in late May, Kelly told NESN’s Doug Kyed that before thinking about the playoffs, stats and defensive alignments, he’s “Got to make the team first,” adding, “Bill [Belichick] don’t guarantee nobody nothing.”

Assuming the focused Kelly does make the final 53-man roster, his impact will be light on the books and heavy in the locker room.

That said, what about on the field?

To grasp a better understanding of how Kelly can impact the Patriots defense, let’s take a closer look at how he impacted the Raiders defense.

 

Average vs. the Run

Kelly has played extensively as a 5-technique 3-4 defensive end and the 3-technique 4-3 defensive tackle. He has registered at least 41 tackles seven times during his career and more than 55 tackles four times.

Yet while D-linemen accumulate tackles versus the run, that doesn't mean it's always an efficient process. Facing the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10 last season, it was not an efficient process for Kelly.

On a 2nd-and-goal in the second quarter of action, QB Joe Flacco manned the shotgun with "11" personnel surrounding him. This look almost deceived the Raiders into expecting the pass.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

They got the run.

Kelly lined up in the 3-technique shading right guard Marshal Yanda as Flacco received the snap. Reacting to the ball, Kelly stood upright, losing leverage and attracting two blocks. His body language indicated that he wanted to rush the passer, not encounter the running back.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Kelly is swayed out of the lane even as right tackle Kelechi Osemele departs to block the edge. Despite being freed up, he is unable to shed the block.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

In the play's final stage, Kelly sees that Rice isn't going to be stopped. A seven-yard touchdown run is the byproduct of subpar run defense.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

According to the premium performance grading over at Pro Football Focus, Kelly ranked as the 38th-best defensive tackle versus the run in 2012. The year prior, Kelly ranked as the 66th-best versus the run. And although he missed only one tackle over that two-year span, he wasn't often responsible for impact stops against rushing attacks.

Kelly is a sound tackler. Nevertheless, he is better at pursuing gaps than he is sitting back and waiting to clog lanes.

 

Dangerous vs. the Pass

What Kelly lacks in run defense is made up for in pass defense.

Undrafted back in 2004, Kelly has been a viable pocket-pusher throughout his NFL career. Case in point: He amassed 14.5 sacks between 2010 and 2011. He has racked up more than four sacks in a season on five occasions.

In a low-output 2012, Kelly was finally credited with a sack in a Week 15 tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs.

On a 3rd-and-10 in the fourth quarter, the Raiders functioned out of a 4-2 sub package alignment to counter Kansas City's four-wide set with just halfback Jamaal Charles in the backfield.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Kelly lined up in the 3-technique on the outside shoulder of right guard Jon Asamoah.

Off the snap, Kelly stutter-stepped and used his lateral quickness to swing inside Asamoah. In doing so, he neared the center, delivering a heavy-handed swim move.

Meanwhile, backup quarterback Brady Quinn eyed the right sideline as Kelly approached from his left.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Four Chiefs blockers halt two Raiders down linemen.

Kelly is not one of those linemen. He zeros his sights on Quinn and drives through the open runway.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Kelly extended his arms, wrapping up Quinn for an eight-yard loss. It took all of three seconds for the sack to transpire. Kelly showed finesse, quickness and strength, all over the course of one play.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Kelly has 34 sacks to his name. And in turn, the Jackson, Mississippi native is recognized as one of the most adept penetrators in the league.

Known for burrowing his way through the A-gap of offensive lines on his way to the backfield, this is where Kelly should make his dent in the Patriots defense. If all goes as planned, he will ripple waters that have been rather stagnant in recent years.


Laundry Woes

Despite 129 games on his NFL resume, Kelly still looks undisciplined on the field at times. Consequently, he has a track record when it comes to penalty flags.

And it is one of the few things that could potentially keep him off the field with the Patriots.

(Statistics via Pro Football Focus)

Kelly drew flags twice in last year's season opener against the San Diego Chargers. Both had to do with pre-snap angst.

On a 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter of play, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers uttered a hard count as fullback Le'Ron McClain went in motion.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

One final "hut" and Kelly was off to the races and over the line of scrimmage. The result: an encroachment call and a fresh set of downs.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

Minutes later, on a 3rd-and-3, Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler crept up to the line.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

The subtle adjustment caught Kelly off guard. He got out of his stance and stomped into the neutral zone as Rivers snapped the ball. The ruling was offsides. The Chargers were awarded another first down.

(Image via NFL Game Rewind)

There is a theory that Kelly’s penalty issues will keep him off the field. Then again, one aspect flies in the face of that theory. As Pro Football Focus cites, Wilfork tallied seven penalties—fourth-worst among defensive tackles—and still rarely left the huddle in 2012.

So while penalties up front are a detriment, they are far from the final straw in the eyes of Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

 

Every-Down Durability

As the snap counts database on Football Outsiders suggests, Kelly was a steady worker for the silver and black last season.

By year’s end, he was on the field for 73 percent of defensive downs and had notched a grand total of 756 defensive snaps. To put those numbers in perspective, fellow defensive tackles Red Bryant, B.J. Raji and Barry Cofield all played less for their respective teams.

Not bad for a big-bodied lineman on the back nine of his football life.

Kelly and Wilfork are the only Patriots defensive tackles to have a tackle in their NFL stat books. So it’s clear that No. 93 brings his share of assets to the Patriots' quite youthful defense.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Durability is one of those assets.

Kelly has played in and started all 16 contests since 2008—a streak of 80 consecutive starts. That lack of wear and tear should be a welcome sight at a defensive tackle position looking for some continuity.

Regardless of Kelly’s mixed results against the run game, regardless of his checkered history with referees, and regardless of his impending positional battle with USC and Canadian Football League standout Armond Armstead, Kelly provides the Patriots with a wily presence inside who can bring the rush.

And he can bring the rush on any down.

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