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Chargers 90-in-90: RB Joshua Kelley

The Bolts have added another rusher in each draft since Kelley was selected in 2020.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Chargers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

This past season, Kelley was forced to battle for game time with rookie Larry Rountree as the team’s RB3. Neither provided much consistency, which could be said for every back that wasn’t named Austin Ekeler. Kelley finished the 2021 season with just 33 rushes for 102 yards and no touchdowns.

Basic Info

Height: 5’11
Weight: 212
College: UC Davis/UCLA
Experience: 2
Years with team: 2

Contract Status

“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 2022, Kelley will earn a base salary of $895,000, while carrying a cap hit of $1,090,085 and a dead cap value of $390,170.” -

The Good

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.

The Bad

Through two seasons, Kelley hasn’t shown much in the way of being able to create something out of nothing. He needs the blocking up front to be nearly perfect for him to find success as a rusher. Despite having an extra year in the pros under his belt over Rountree, Kelley couldn’t create any distance between him and the then-rookie. He ended the season with less than a third of the amount of carries he received in 2020.

Odds of making the roster/What to expect in 2022?

Kelley will be on the edge of making this roster, especially if the team decides to keep just three running backs and a fullback. One of the more-heated camp battles will certainly be between him and Rountree. Should he make the roster, I see a similar workload coming his way as a seldom-used option in the rushing attack.