It took until the third and final day of the 2023 NFL Draft about midway through the fifth round but the Baltimore Ravens made their first outside addition at cornerback with the selection of Kyu Blu Kelly at No. 157 overall out of Standford.
His position was the team’s most glaring need heading into the draft and not only is he their first new face, but according to ESPN Stats & Info via Jamison Hensley, he is the first player from his college program ever to be selected by the Ravens in the Common Draft Era as well.
“I’m really thankful to the Ravens for taking a chance on me and [I’m] making sure there’s no regrets with that – making sure they got the right guy,” Kelly said in a Zoom conference call. “I believe that, and I’m going to make them believe that too.”
He is also the son of retired NFL cornerback Brian Kelly, who spent 11 seasons in the league between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions. His father was coached by Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin during his time in Tampa Bay and in 2002, won a Super Bowl and tied Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson for the league lead in interceptions with a single-season career high of eight per Pro Football Reference.
The Ravens were stunned that Kelly lasted as long as he did and consider themselves grateful that they were able to get such a talented player at a position of need at such a great value.
“His dad played in the league; he’s been around ball. [He is] a Stanford kid, smart, tough, competitive, can play man and zone, has good ball skills,” Ravens director of college scouting David Blackburn said. “He’s going to come in and do the right things. He loves ball, so to get a guy like that at this stage in the Draft, we consider that a value pick.”
The 6-foot, 191-pounder was a four-year starter for the Cardinal that primarily lined up on the outside but the Ravens love his skill set, athletic profile, and ability to play multiple coverages.
“A very polished efficient mover, good eyes, physical, good size, can play zone, can play man. A very experienced player, durable guy,” DeCosta said.
Kelly possesses fierce competitiveness, is ready to come in and contribute in any way he can, takes pride in playing and paying his dues on special teams, and believes that he can play whatever role the team needs him to fill or step up into.
“What I bring to the secondary and the team is, No. 1, a competitor,” Kelly said. “Whatever I’m doing, I want to be the best and beat the best. A nickel and a corner, wherever they want to fit me – man coverage – I was able to experience a lot of different scheme diversity that really helps me. Being a Swiss Army knife, putting me in different places.”
Kelly Values His Father’s Influence and Senior Bowl Experience
The 21-year-old rookie is grateful that he is a second-generation NFL player and believes his father’s experience and success in the league as well as his presence in his life, helped shape who he is on and off the field.
“It helped me 100 percent,” he said. “I was literally just telling him before this whole process even started that without him, I wouldn’t even be as close to the man I am or close to the football player I am today.
Kelly feels especially blessed considering that he not only had a father that played professional football but that he had a father that was present at all.
“That’s such a big thing; that’s such a blessing in this life,” he said. “I can’t even have the words to say, but it’s such a big blessing I have, for sure.”
His best collegiate season came when he was a junior in 2021 where he recorded 58 tackles, 11 pass deflections, two interceptions, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble, and a touchdown return according to Sports Reference.
“I actually thought that if he had come out last year, he would have easily been a Day 2 pick, in my opinion,” Blackburn said. “I’m happy to get him in the fifth round right now. I think he’s going to be a great Raven, a great fit.
He still managed to post respectable stats in 2022 with 35 total tackles, six pass breakups, and one forced fumble.
After his senior season wasn’t as impressive as his the previous year, he was determined to show coaches, executives, scouts, and evaluators that the upper-echelon ability he put on tape the year before wasn’t a fluke by putting on quite the show at the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
“My senior season, compared to my junior season, I had in total in man-to-man about 25 targets the entire season. Not a lot of opportunities to show myself or make plays. I knew at the Senior Bowl, I’ve got to turn it up,” Kelly said. “People are like, ‘He had a good junior year, his senior year is just so-so. Is he still that same player?’ I think I proved that.”
He was voted the practice player of the week for the national team after putting the clamps on almost every receiver he lined up across from and making several nice breaks on the ball.
Rookie Looks Forward to Practicing Against Ravens New Weapons
Growing up, Kelly used to dream about the day he’d be able to test his mettle against some of the best wide receivers the league had to offer. One of the star wideouts he used to think about lining up against was Odell Beckham Jr.
The three-time Pro Bowler was one of several dynamic playmaking additions that the team has made this offseason with the other being signing former first-rounder Nelson Agholor and using their first-round pick this year to take Boston College star Zay Flowers at No. 22 overall.
“Those are the guys I want to line up against,” Kelly said. “I want to see what they’ve got in their game, and they can just make me better. Guys like that who are pros, and Zay Flowers, who is going to be a great rookie for our team, I feel like that’s just going to make me better; it’s just an iron sharpens iron thing. And a competitive guy like me, I want my first shot at bat at them when I can to just jump out there and make sure I’m doing better [and] getting better.”
A player on the team at his position whose game he admires and would like to emulate is three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey. The seven-year veteran is renowned for his incredible physicality at the line and in coverage as much as he is for his propensity for dislodging the ball from ball carriers for forced fumbles.
“I feel like that’s definitely something I can plus in my game,” Kelly said. “Not being the same size as Marlon, different types of players I feel like, but at the same time making sure I bring that same physicality that they demand from their top guys.”