Being Broncos' backup would be huge step up for Chad Kelly

"He can rip that thing," Broncos tight end Jake Butt said of Chad Kelly. "You definitely have to wear gloves because he'll be spinning that bad boy pretty tough." AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have bigger issues than backup quarterback to contend with following a 5-11 finish in 2017. But make no mistake: One of the most watched items of the summer might be Chad Kelly's pursuit to be Mr. Relevant, or at least Mr. Making Significant Progress.

The Broncos' second-year quarterback -- the 253rd and final player selected in the 2017 NFL draft and so-called Mr. Irrelevant -- has already made significant strides in his quest to play. Kelly entered the 2017 draft with plenty of questions, then spent his rookie season on injured reserve following wrist surgery. But as the Broncos wrapped up the 2018 draft last month, John Elway said Kelly would compete with Paxton Lynch for the No. 2 job behind Case Keenum.

"I've been proud of Chad overall," coach Vance Joseph said. "He's been here every day and he's worked his butt off. ... He's definitely put the work in."

For Kelly to suddenly be on the same competitive plane as Lynch, a 2016 first-round pick, is confirmation of how well his offseason has gone. Training camp awaits, preseason games will be played and Lynch's status as a former No. 1 pick could always factor into any equation, but Kelly ate better, worked harder and now has an opportunity to carve out a spot as Keenum's backup.

"This is what you do; this is your job," Kelly said. "To be able to get out here with the guys and get back into the swing of things, like I said, it's your job. This is all you do. You go home, you study and you just keep on working on your craft. This is my craft right now ... being out of the game for a year and a half, there hasn't been any consistency in what I've been doing."

Kelly came into the 2017 draft with injury questions -- he had torn his right ACL during his final season at Mississippi -- as well as a list of off-the-field red flags that included being tossed off Clemson's team in 2014, a 2014 arrest after a bar fight in Buffalo, New York, as well as an altercation at his brother's high school football game in 2016.

It's why despite a power arm, big numbers -- 50 touchdown passes and 15 rushing scores -- and a victory over Alabama during his two years at Ole Miss, he came within one pick of being undrafted. Elway has said on several occasions the Broncos vetted Kelly with some vigor and spoke to Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, Chad's uncle, right before the draft.

Joseph now says that Kelly was "a little tubby kid" last season. But Kelly dove into the offseason almost immediately after the Broncos played out the string, posting videos of his work with Phil Simms, with Jim Kelly looking on at times.

Kelly has been one of the team's most active players in appearances with local charities, and he said he got down to the basics on everything, including his diet.

"I've said I think eating spinach and chicken paid off instead of eating fries," Kelly said. "I just think I really needed to move around and get back closer to my weight back in early college and high school. I'm feeling like I can move around, but also being powerful in throwing the ball."

Kelly, because he was injured during his first season, took part in the Broncos' recent rookie minicamp and was the only quarterback throwing during those drills. He confirmed his progress there, and during OTAs has split the work behind Keenum fairly evenly with Lynch.

"He can rip that thing," Broncos tight end Jake Butt said. "You definitely have to wear gloves because he'll be spinning that bad boy pretty tough."

Whether he can turn all this into the backup job remains to be seen, but Kelly believes he has at least given himself a chance to be on the conversation, which is far more than he had a year ago with a season's worth of injury rehab on the horizon.

"I want to compete at a high level," Kelly said. "That's every day, doing things every day to get consistent, to be consistent, to just feeling like myself. I want to get back to feeling like I can go out there and perform at a high level."