Raiders DT Kelly Was Overlooked, Underrated, UDFAStory by Tom LaMarre
Considering that Tommy Kelly played nine seasons for the Oakland Raiders and was a starter for most of that time without getting much recognition, you would have to see that he was underrated and almost forgotten today.
The 6-6, 310-pound Kelly was a more than solid yet unheralded member of the Raiders defensive line for nearly a decade after he signed with the Silver and Black as again overlooked an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State in 2004.
However, Kelly had great respect in Oakland, even though he never made the Pro Bowl and was twice selected as an alternate.
“He is one of the premier inside players in the league,” Raiders Coach Dennis Allen said of Kelly. “He’s working on trying to develop a little bit more from a fundamental standpoint, and if he does those little things, he’ll begin to get recognized as one of the top interior players like he’s played already.
“For some reason, he just doesn’t get the recognition.”
Even though he didn’t start as a rookie, Kelly had two sacks against New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks in his first game, followed by a sack of San Diego Chargers quarterback Drew Brees the following week and another against Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme early in the season.
Kelly finished his rookie season with 20 tackles and those four sacks while playing part-time, starting three games and becoming a starter the following season.
The best was yet to come, as Kelly started for the Raiders for the next eight seasons and amassed 423 total tackles, 34½ sacks, forced ten fumbles and recovered four, had one interception, and defended against 18 passes.
On Feb. 28, 2008, the Raiders signed Kelly to the largest contract ever given to a defensive tackle in the NFL on the eve of free agency, a seven-year deal worth $50.5 million, with $18.125 million in guarantees and $25.125 million over the first three years.
Kelly’s 58 quarterback hits are second in Raiders history to only linebacker Khalil Mack. Still, for some reason, some considered Kelly an underachiever because of the huge contract and the fact that he never made All-Pro or was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Still, he was considered a reliable run-stopper and gap-filler throughout his career with the Silver and Black. His best season came in 2010 when he had 60 tackles and seven sacks; the next season, he had a career-high of 7.5 sacks.
Things started going downhill for Kelly in Oakland on Sept. 14, 2008, when he was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence, even though he played three more seasons for the Raiders.
Kelly was released by the Raiders in 2013 and signed a two-year free-agent contract with the New England Patriots. He was placed on the Injured Reserve List late in the season and released the following August when he signed with the Arizona Cardinals, where he played one more season before retiring in 2015.
He remembers most of his years with the Raiders from 2004-12.
“I love the city of Oakland,” Kelly said when he retired. “I have much love for the people back there. They recognize the people who play hard. I know I play hard. I always left it on the field. I lived through a lot over there, but at the same time, I learned a lot about how to be a professional and what not to do in my career, and it got me this far, 11 years strong. I’ve got a lot of respect for the Davis family and had many good teammates.
“A lot of times that's when you see how much a person loves football, when everything ain't going good for them. It’s easy to play hard when you're on the best team, but try playing hard when you know you barely got a shot to win. I guess being undrafted. I was the type of player who really gets down on myself because I know in the NFL you've always got a chance to redeem yourself. Nobody in this league plays a perfect 16-game season. It’s always about how you bounce back.”
Kelly finished his 11-year NFL career with 479 total tackles, 38 sacks, and 19 passes defended in 150 games for three teams, 135 as a starter, and only after he retired did people start claiming he had been underrated.
The Cardinals hired Kelly as an assistant coach in 2017