Josh Kelley was born in Inglewood, Califronia but would grow up just north of Los Angeels in the town of Lancaster. He played his prep football at Eastside High School where he rushed for 1,903 yards and 22 touchdowns across his final two seasons. As a senior, he was named a First-Team All-Golden League pick and the conference’s running back of the year.
Kelley graduated Eastside as the No. 232 running back in his class and a two-star recruit. He chose to stay close to home by committing to play for the University of California, Davis at the FCS level.
In two years there, Kelley accumulated 1,139 and seven touchdowns before making the decision to bet on himself and transfer up to nearby UCLA. After sitting out the entire 2017 season due to NCAA transfer guidelines, Kelley earned a starting role for nine hames during the 2018 season while playing in 11 games total. He ended the year with the 10th-most rushing yards in a single season (1,243). In his final season with the Bruins, he started all 11 games, rushing for 1,060 yards and another 12 touchdowns. He was named a First-Team All-Pac 12 honoree by the Associated Press and a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy which is handed out to the nation’s top walk-on.
Kelley would go on to be selected by the Chargers in the fifth-round of the 2020 NFL draft, culminating his path to the NFL that all took place without him needing to leave his home state of California.
As a rookie, Kelley set his career high in rushing yards with 354 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including one in his first NFL game against the Bengals. He also caught all 23 of his passes for 148 yards. His production took a step back in 2021 as he received just 33 carries for 102 yards. In 2022, he saw 69 carries that he took for 287 yards and another two scores. His 4.2 yards per carry also set a new high mark for his career.
College: UCLA/UC Davis
Years with team: 3
“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 2023, Kelley will earn a base salary of $1,010,000, while carrying a cap hit of $1,205,085 and a dead cap value of $195,085.” - Spotrac.com
While teammate Isaiah Spiller matches him in weight, Kelley runs like the biggest back on the roster. In 2022, he began to finish runs falling forward at a consistent rate. On top of that, his vision also began to stand out as he began to notice more cutback lanes than in his prior two seasons. His 4.2 yards per carry average also topped his previous best by almost a full yard.
Kelley began to wash away the negative parts of his game in 2022 as he showed marked development behind starter Austin Ekeler. Injuries unfortunately took their toll and forced him to sit out four games during the regular season. Despite setting a new career high in YPC, Kelley still couldn’t find enough consistency throughout the year to distance himself much from Spiller or Larry Rountree.
Odds of making the roster/What to expect in 2023?
Kelley will make the Chargers’ roster as he’s currently locked in to a tight battle with Spiller for the team’s backup spot behind Ekeler. He just had a strong performance against the Rams in the team’s preseason opener where he rushed for 54 yards on nine carries. With Kellen Moore utilizes a much more downhill approach in the run game, Kelley could be in store for his best professional season yet.