Former five-star recruit Caleb Kelly entering ‘prove-it’ year in 2021

Five-star recruits are the most heavily sought after prospects in each cycle. Some meet expectations on the gridiron and some do not, whether it be a crowded roster or a myriad of injuries that derail a career. But each new year ushers in a fresh start for players and an opportunity for stardom.

It only takes one season to change a player’s trajectory and draft stock. For many, 2021 is the year it is on the line. 247Sports evaluates several former five-star recruits who are in desperate need of a stellar 2021 campaign. Oklahoma Sooner Caleb Kelly fell among the list.

247Sports Composite Rank: No. 24 in 2016

Kelly looked the part of a five-star prospect as an underclassman. He forced his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2016 and drew honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in 2017 as a sophomore. He followed that up with a career-high 61 tackles in just 10 games as a junior. Then injuries piled up. Kelly tore his ACL ahead of the 2019 season and played in just four games near the end of the year. Kelly projected to start as a redshirt senior but he suffered another knee injury that would cost him his entire 2020 season.

Kelly should be part of a deep Sooners linebacker rotation in 2021 that includes five players with starting experience or a claim for a starting role. Kelly’s injury history is a big question, but he remains extremely talented and is among the most experienced defenders on the Sooners’ roster. A strong and fully healthy season would again put him on the NFL’s radar.

Injuries have hindered Kelly from reaching his full potential the past two seasons in Norman. He worked his way back and Kelly is striving for a breakthrough as a sixth-year senior. After back-to-back knee injuries, while he watched his teammates on the field and in the workout facility, Kelly was isolated in the physical therapy center rehabbing. That takes a tremendous toll on one’s mental health but quitting was not an option.

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Kelly stressed to media during spring camp that he never considered stepping away from the game despite the mental, physical and emotional hardships. Even though he was not producing on the field and gathering highlights on film, he still had to watch the film cut-up to stay engaged. They say third time’s a charm and Kelly is hoping his third senior year will be a tremendous one.

He concluded the 2018 season with immense promise. Kelly notched seven tackles in the Big 12 Championship game victory over Texas and an additional seven in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Orange Bowl loss to Alabama. 40 of Kelly’s 61 tackles that season came in the final five games. However, luck did not swing his direction in 2019 and 2020 but this season presents a clean slate for the playmaking linebacker. Kelly will add firepower to the second level of Alex Grinch’s defense come fall.


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