Joshua Kelley was born and raised in Lancaster, California which is just north of where he wound up playing football professionally. He attended Eastside High School where he starred as both a running back and kick returner. His senior season, Kelley rushed for 1,469 yards and 16 touchdowns on top of catching 19 passes for another 352 yards and six more scores. That performance earned him Golden League Back of the Year honors and a selection to the All-Golden League First Team.
Out of high school, Kelley committed to play for UC Davis. During his two seasons there, he rushed for a combined 1,139 yards and seven touchdowns. Following his sophomore season, Kelley chose to take a chance on himself and pursue his dream of playing football at a Power 5 school. After repeated phone calls to the running backs coach at UCLA, Kelley was given the opportunity to walk on.
Kelley wasted little time in becoming a factor for the Bruins. During his junior season, he rushed for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns. During his final collegiate campaign, he rushed for 1,060 yards and another 12 touchdowns en route to being named to the Second-Team All-Pac 12 squad. Following his senior season, Kelley was invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl where he enjoyed a standout week that ended in him rushing for over 100 yards during the all-star showcase.
The Chargers made Kelley their first pick of day three during the 2020 NFL draft. As a rookie, Kelley saw his first taste of the NFL in week one against the Bengals. In that game, he scored the team’s first touchdown of the year on a five-yard carry and later broke a season-long 33-yard run.
Chargers rookie Joshua Kelley takes it to the end zone pic.twitter.com/Uzx5XATgqc— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) September 13, 2020
Kelley finished his first professional season with 354 yards and two touchdowns on 111 carries. He also caught all 23 of his targets for 148 yards.
College: UC Davis/UCLA
Years with team: 1
“Josh Kelley signed a 4 year, $4,075,340 contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, including a $780,340 signing bonus, $780,340 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $1,018,835. In 2021, Kelley will earn a base salary of $780,000, while carrying a cap hit of $975,085 and a dead cap value of $585,255.” - Spotrac.com
Kelley has one of the most-infectious personalities on the team. He’s always got a massive smile on his face and he’s a blast to speak with when he meets with the media. As a player, Kelley brings a one-cut, north/south style of running that maximizes yards after contact. He’s got a tiny bit of wiggle but his game is mostly predicated on hitting the hole hard and churning the pile.
Kelley’s style of running did not synergize well with last year’s horrendous offensive line unit. Kelley does not possess the necessary wiggle to make defenders miss in a phone booth which severely limits his ability to make something out of nothing. When the offensive line faltered, so did he. He also lost a pair of fumbles on the year and that didn’t do him any favors when it came to being in the good graces of Anthony Lynn. Lastly, he blew at least one assignment on special teams that led to a blocked kick. This will be a huge area he’ll need to improve on to maintain his value to this team, especially after the new staff drafted another running back in Larry Rountree.
Odds of making the roster/What to expect in 2021?
Kelley has a high chance of making the team’s final roster as their third-string back. His only real competition is Rountree whom the coaching staff selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft. I don’t think the team ends of keeping four running backs along with fullback Gabe Nabers, but since the offense looks to utilize multiple backs with Austin Ekeler lining up out wide at times, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. Kelley’s ability to perform on special teams will be the biggest difference-maker in distancing himself from the rookie Rountree in 2021.