The senior should rank among the nation’s top performers at his position this fall, and he also has a couple of promising youngsters behind him on the depth chart.
Let’s take a look at the Rebels’ quarterback situation entering the season:
2015 in review: Kelly prevailed in a three-man race leading up to last season and went on to one of the best statistical campaigns by a quarterback in SEC history. His 4,042 passing yards and 4,542 total yards both rank third in the league's single-season record book, and his 41 total touchdowns (31 passing, 10 rushing) tied for seventh. He was voted second-team All-SEC and is the first-team preseason pick for 2016.
What’s the buzz? “There’s no question I’d rather be in our position going into the season than otherwise. I like our backups, too, in Shea Patterson and Jason Pellerin. I think those two guys are really good also. There will be somebody [on other teams] that comes out. But quarterback play in this league, if you don’t have good quarterback play, it’s very, very difficult to win games.” -- coach Hugh Freeze
Key weapons: Gone are leading receiver Laquon Treadwell (82 receptions for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns) and leading rusher Jaylen Walton (730 yards, five TDs), but Kelly still has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Wideouts Quincy Adeboyejo (38-604, seven TDs), Damore'ea Stringfellow (36-503, five TDs) and Markell Pack (31-380, three TDs) all return, as do tight end Evan Engram (38-464, two TDs) and sophomore upstart DaMarkus Lodge. Running back Jordan Wilkins' academic ineligibility leaves Akeem Judd (421 yards, three TDs) and redshirt freshman Eric Swinney as Ole Miss’ primary backfield options.
What to watch: Freeze believes in his reconstructed offensive line, but he must replace all five starters from last season’s Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma State. As long as the line lives up to Freeze’s expectations in protecting Kelly, Ole Miss should lead the SEC in passing offense again this season.
Next in line: At most SEC schools, true freshman Patterson would probably be battling for a starting job this season. Barring injury to Kelly, Ole Miss has the luxury of letting him learn behind one of the most talented quarterbacks to come through the conference in the past decade. Patterson and dual-threat redshirt freshman Pellerin give the Rebels a couple of promising options for the future.
Grade: A. Maybe Kelly is the only seasoned player here, but the talent and potential are off the charts. The Rebels are set at quarterback for years to come.