B.J. and the Bear: long-striding receiver looks for an opening in Duck rotation

bjkelleyarkstatezimbioOn the first play of B.J. Kelley’s senior season at Central High School in Fresno, California, he went 80 yards for a touchdown.

He and his friend Brendon Bigelow, now a star tailback at Cal, led the Grizzlies to the second round of the CIF Central Section Playoffs. Kelley grabbed 51 passes for 1,224 yards and a school record 16 touchdowns. As the go-to receiver in a spread offense, he had scoring plays of 90, 80, 71, 70, 65, and 61 yards. In the sixth game of the year against Buchanan, he caught 8 passes for 213 yards and four tds.

Eyes on the prize: B.J. Kelley nabs a 22-yard pass against Arkansas State early in his redshirt freshmen season. A huge star in high school, Kelley’s still looking for the opportunity, confidence and consistency to make a big impact as a Duck. ( photo)

In his last season as a prep Kelley averaged an eye-catching 23.98 yards a reception, often turning simple slant or screen routes into big plays. At a combine that summer he ran a 4.34 40. ESPN rated him a 4-star player, the 26th best receiver in the country out of 250,000 high school seniors.

That December B.J. committed to Oregon, part of a speedy trio of promising receivers that included Devon Blackmon and Tacoi Sumler, both of whom have since transferred for lack of playing time.

B.J., a handsome kid with a ready smile, keeps sticking it out.

He redshirted in 2011, and last season he caught 6 passes for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns, the tds coming off a deflected ball against Cal and a nifty drag route along the end line in the Civil War, the play Jeff Maehl got so much mileage out of in his four years in the Webfoot receiving corps. In addition, he alertly recovered a fumbled punt in the Washington game, making four tackles on special teams during the year.

B.J. also runs track for the PAC-12 Champion Oregon men’s team. In the 2013 season he ran a 10.84 100 and 21.3 200, and along with anchor De’Anthony Thomas, was part of the 4×100 relay team that ran a season-best 39.89 at the NCAA Championships, the fifth fastest time in school history.

Kelley’s done some dedicated work in Jim Radcliffe’s weight room, visibly changing his body since arriving as a lean freshman.

Driving through the finish line: the latest in a long line of two-sport stars at Oregon, B.J. has improved both his strength and speed with year-round training. (Paul Harvey photo)

At 6-2, 182, with long arms, big hands and sprinter’s speed, Kelley is still an intriguing prospect with the potential to develop into a big-play receiver and vertical threat at the college level. So far the learning curve for him has been a big bender that just misses the black: he’s still learning pass routes, formations and assignments, and needs the experience of making some big plays to gain the confidence to make more of them.

After a scrimmage this spring Head Coach Mark Helfrich told Rob Moseley, then of the Register-Guard:

B.J., when he’s scrimmaging he always finds a way. Maybe (in the past he) would have run the wrong route and scored a touchdown, but he actually ran the right route and scored, so that’s a step in the right direction.

Kelley capped off his progress with 3 catches in the Spring Game for 40 yards. The longest went for 22, and it was a particularly impressive moment in his development as he took a crushing hit on the play but still held on to the ball. He had to be helped off the field after the catch but returned to haul in two more.

The Ducks have a deep receiver rotation this year but no one, other than senior Josh Huff, has shown the ability to stretch the defense consistently. There’s an opportunity for #23 to step out of the crowded sideline huddle and make a place for himself, but he’ll need to finish some plays and lay down some blocks when fall camp begins in two weeks.

Perhaps more than any other receiver on the roster, Kelley stands to benefit from the addition of Matt Lubick to the Oregon coaching staff. He needs refinement on his technique and a better understanding of what’s necessary to harness his considerable talent at the next level. Tall and fast, Kelley has the raw material and takes the ball into his hands with a natural ease. 

Here’s a look at his high school tape, with scouting notes:


Play 1 Gathers the ball over his shoulder into his hands. Beats the defender badly on a simple go route.

Play 2 Bubble screen, stop and go, shed one tackle, breaks into the clear, 80-yard touchdown.

 Play 3 Hitch. Takes the ball smoothly, breaks a tackle, gone.

Play 4 Flea flicker. Kelley is deep and three steps clear of the safety. Makes a nice catch just inside the end line and goal post. Good concentration and footwork.

Play 5 Quick screen at the opponent’s 20. Kelley takes the ball along the left sideline and trusts his speed, outrunning 4 defenders to the goal line. Drives right through. An explosive weapon with good size and athletic ability. A big-play receiver with Marqise Lee/Samie Parker potential. Big hands, long legs and arms. Takes the ball in naturally and softly.

Play 6 Alertly picks up a deflection just off the turf, a nimble and athletic play. Very alert with a quick adjustment to the ball. Dashes for the touchdown like it was drawn up that way.

Play 7 Inside route in traffic, and he’s not bothered by it. Makes a very smooth transition from receiving the ball to becoming an explosive running back, accelerating with a simple slant pattern and turning it into a 60-yard touchdown. Dangerous.

If he completes his adjustment to college football successfully, he has the potential to be the big-play deep threat Oregon hasn’t had since Parker. Particularly love the way he is thinking big play even on possession routes, accelerating full speed into a thinned-out secondary like the field belongs to him. Has to rediscover the confidence that made him a great high school player. 

From Mike Wines of Oregon Duck Soup, Kelley’s TD grab in the Civil War: