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Is Taylor Kelly elite? The case for the ASU quarterback

The clamors of the maroon and gold faithful appealing for respect for their quarterback were bolstered recently by Pac-12 Network analysts Rick Neuheisel and Curtis Conway's praise during Pac-12 Media days in Los Angeles, CA. But does Taylor Kelly deserve to be elevated to the same tier as Hesiman candidate quarterbacks Brett Hundley (UCLA) and Marcus Mariota (Oregon)?

Let's examine the evidence.

The context is key in understanding the lack of national attention that Taylor Kelly receives. The filter through which these quarterbacks are analyzed is skewed by a NFL-potential viewpoint.

Kelly is not a high-level NFL quarterback prospect, albeit he should get a shot at making a professional roster. That is a stark contrast to Hundley and Mariota, who take turns appearing on the covers of Sports Illustrated. Pick a 2015 NFL Mock Draft and it will be an easy task to locate Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota in the first round. Finding Kelly in the same mock draft, regardless of round, will prove to be a difficult task.

But that should not diminish what Kelly has done as a student-athlete. That is the same for Hundley and Mariota if they turn out to be "busts" in the NFL. Matt Leinart is still one of the best quarterbacks of the BCS era, right?

So, let's look at Kelly's case.

Exhibit A: He's Not Working with Much...

...by recruiting analysts' standards. The first Wednesday in February is one of the few moments during the offseason that provides the thrill of victory for dormant college football fans as 17 and 18-year-olds around the nation grab their university's hat. But there haven't been very many notable victories for ASU in recent years.

Based on Rivals.com class recruiting rankings, ASU's class average from 2010-2013 was 41st nationally (high of 34, low of 59). That four year span was comprised of a total of thirteen four-star recruits and zero five-star recruits. Not necessarily the ingredients to put together a Pac-12 South championship team.

On the other hand, UCLA and Oregon have been spoiled with riches. The Bruins' average ranking for the same time period was 18th nationally (high of 8 (twice), low of 45), which included forty four-star and one five-star recruits. During that time frame Oregon maintained a consistent presence in the top twenty-five national recruiting classes, averaging 15th (high of 9, low of 22).

Kelly, a 2-star recruit from Eagle, ID, has not been surrounded by blue-chip recruits, yet he has still found a way to get the job done. The controversial victory over Wisconsin at Sun Devil Stadium (9/14/13), Kelly threw for 352 yards (0 TD, 1 INT). At 56%, his completion percentage does not jump off the page, but his receiving corp had over ten dropped passes.


Yes, now the Pac-12 is aware of Jaelen Strong on the outside, but through the majority of 2013, Kelly's most reliable receivers were his two running backs, Marion Grice and DJ Foster.

Marion Grice was the lone offensive Sun Devil selected in the 2014 NFL draft.

Maximizing Resources Winner: Taylor Kelly.

Exhibit B: ASU Had the Best Regular Season Record in the Pac-12...

...at 8-1. A total record of 10-4 (played one extra game with the Pac-12 Championship), which included the demise of Kiffin's tenure at USC, a division clinching victory in the Rose Bowl, and two beat-downs from Stanford.

Sagarin rankings had ASU playing the second toughest schedule nationally (UCLA's 7th, Oregon's 29th), but the final memories of ASU's regular season included multiple injuries and uninspiring performances in the conference championship and Holiday Bowl.

But all the top programs in the Pac-12 experienced their own peaks and valleys.

Hundley guided the Bruins to an early-season comeback victory at Nebraska and beat their cross-town rival for a second straight year. On the other hand, losses to ASU, Stanford, and a blow-out in Eugene brought the Bruins back to reality.

Although Oregon ended at 11-2, their two losses may have been the most demoralizing. Another year full of national championship aspirations were squashed on The Farm and an abysmal performance in Tucson kept them out of the Pac-12 conference championship again.

ASU and Oregon missed each other in 2013, but the Devils did outlast the Bruins in Pasadena.

Exhibit C: There is Little Separation Statistically...

...with Kelly and Hundley. Mora's signal caller may be getting a lot of attention, but based off 2013 stats, Mariota is the most productive and efficient quarterback in the Pac-12-by far.

PASSING:

  • Kelly: 302/484 - 62.4% - 3635 Yards - 28 TD/12 INT
  • Hundley: 248/369 - 67.2% - 3071 Yards - 24 TD/9 INT
  • Mariota: 245/386 - 63.5% - 3665 Yards - 31 TD/4 INT

RUSHING:

  • Kelly: 173 Attempts - 608 Yards - 3.5 AVG - 9 TD - Long of 44
  • Hundley: 160 Attempts - 748 Yards - 4.7 AVG - 11 TD - Long of 86
  • Mariota: 96 Attempts - 715 Yards - 7.4 AVG - 9 TD - Long of 71

With one hundred more passing attempts than Hundley, it is arguable that he and Kelly could be stat-for-stat through the air (although Mazzone's frequently used low-risk swing passes may disagree). Conversely, with 98 less attempts, Mariota threw for more yards with a better completion percentage and touchdown to interception ratio. Round, Mariota.

A key element to each of these quarterbacks' game is their ability to tuck the ball and run, with each rushing over 600 yards in 2013.* With thirteen less attempts, Hundley ran for 140 more yards than Kelly and scored two more touchdowns.

But despite what appears to be "finishing third" statistically in comparison to these two signal callers, Kelly was voted second team all conference (Mariota-1st Team, Hundley-Honorable Mention).

Closing Argument...

...where does that leave Kelly in comparison to Hundley and Mariota?

It would be hard to argue that he and Mariota are on the same level, but one could contend that he deserves the same level of respect, as a COLLEGE quarterback, as Hundley. The two quarterbacks are 1-1 against one another, and fortunately for the rest of us they face each other again on Sept. 25 in Tempe, AZ.

In 2013, Kelly did more with less against the second toughest schedule in the nation. He may not be as efficient as Mariota or as athletically gifted as Hundley, but he gets the job done. And when the three quarterbacks are compared ten years from now, that's all anyone is going to remember. Who won, and who lost.

Kelly appears to be a winner.

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*No offense to Sean Mannion or the Beavers, but because of his pro-style game, a fair comparison could not be made versus three dual-threat quarterbacks.