INDIANAPOLIS — The expectations were high for Ryan Kelly when the Indianapolis Colts took him with the 18th-overall pick in last year's NFL Draft.
Immediately, hefty comparisons were thrown upon Kelly: could he be to Andrew Luck what Jeff Saturday was to Peyton Manning?
Well, after Year 1 — so far, so good.
Kelly started all 16 games at center for the Colts in his rookie season in 2016, showing that he was more-than ready for the rigors of NFL duties after a decorated career at the University of Alabama. In fact, Kelly didn't allow a single sack in his first NFL season, even playing through some notable bumps and bruises along the way.
He's obviously one of the key young offensive pieces moving forward for the Colts and first-year general manager Chris Ballard.
But Kelly is also simply one of the best all-around young players there is across the entire league.
That's the belief of NFL Media analyst Elliot Harrison, who each year releases his "All-Under-25 Team." He recently came up with his All-Under-25 Team for this year — in which those listed must be 24 years or younger before the start of the first game of the 2017 season — and Kelly was his pick at center.
You can see the entire list by clicking here, but here's what Harrison had to write about Kelly, specifically:
Center: Ryan Kelly, Indianapolis Colts
"Man, there were a number of impactful rookies on the offensive line last year. Kelly helped a Colts unit filled with youth gel late in the season. Case in point: The must-win game in Minnesota, when Indy started three rookies up front without allowing so much as one sack against the vaunted Vikings defense. They shut out the Raiders the next week, too. Kelly didn't allow one all season."
Kelly is the obvious pick here for Harrison. The Chicago Bears' Cody Whitehair, who perhaps was the only center to put in a better rookie season than Kelly last year, turns 25 on July 11.
In fact, when looking back at Kelly's 2016 season, he was one of just 11 NFL rookies (Whitehair included) to start all 16 games in 2016, and one of five offensive linemen.
He helped block for a Colts offense that ranked tied for fifth in the NFL in passing yards per game (262.6), seventh in points scored (397) and 10th in yards per game (364.4), while also opening rushing lanes for running back Franke Gore, who logged the team's first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2007.
And, as Harrison alluded to, Kelly is the "center"piece of a youth movement up front for the Indianapolis offensive line, which battled through several injuries and inconsistent play the first half of the season to come back strong in the second half, cutting way down on the number of quarterback sacks and hits allowed.
"No one ever talked about Ryan Kelly and that is not a bad thing, it is not a good thing," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said Jan. 2 in his end-of-the-season press conference. "The guy was consistent. He came in as a rookie and started every game and played through injury. It speaks volumes to him and where we are headed in the future with that group."
Kelly is the second Colts player to make Harrison's "All-Under-25 Team" since its inception in 2013, as Luck made the cut in 2014. He had been understandably passed over in favor of Russell Wilson the previous year, after both put in quality rookie seasons.
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