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NFL Draft

Xavier Kelly: 2021 NFL Draft Prospect Interview Series

  • The Draft Network
  • February 27, 2021
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Once seen as one of the top 150 prospects in the nation, things didn’t go as planned for Xavier Kelly at Clemson. Despite being a 4-star recruit and the second-highest rated defensive lineman in their 2016 class, Kelly found playing time hard to come by. Year after year, Kelly was utilized as a rotational player on a loaded defensive line.

That was one of many reasons that Kelly decided to enter the portal as a graduate transfer. He bet on himself and wanted to play for head coach Sam Pittman and defensive coordinator Barry Odom at Arkansas.

A physical defender, Kelly is still very much an ascending prospect that is just scratching the surface of his potential. Kelly recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his decision to transfer, his favorite memory of playing at Clemson, and why an NFL team should bet on him at the next level.

JM: You decided to enter the portal as a graduate transfer and play your final season of college football at Arkansas. Talk to me about the decision to leave Clemson.

XK: I’ve always had dreams and aspirations of playing at the next level. I felt like it was in my best interest to transfer to Arkansas. I wasn’t really receiving the playing time at Clemson. There’s no bad blood between us. I played behind some excellent players at Clemson. I want to play in the NFL. I felt like transferring to Arkansas gave me the best chance to do that.

JM: You got to play for some great coaches at Arkansas such as head coach Sam Pittman and defensive coordinator Barry Odom. What was that like?

XK: Those guys are terrific coaches and even better people. They’re just great guys to be around. Even outside the facility, they’re just terrific people. I had the opportunity to go to coach Pittman’s house and hang around his family. His door was always open. He’s a down-to-earth kind of guy. Both of them, coach Pittman and coach Odom are great motivators. This year was a bit of a rebuilding year for the program. They did a great job motivating the team and laying the foundation down for the future. We can accomplish anything at Arkansas. I can’t speak highly enough of that coaching staff.

JM: That’s great. Things didn’t work out for you at Clemson, but you did win two National Championships there. What do you most recall about those teams?

XK: I was blessed to win two National Championships. My first title was an amazing experience. I just felt so lucky to be there. How many teams can say that they made the National Championship? I was a part of that in my first year at Clemson. The 2018 season was also special.

My first championship was with Deshaun Watson at quarterback. For my second one, we had Trevor Lawrence under center. Those were some surreal moments for me. I’ll never forget them. I was able to achieve my dream not once, but twice as a collegiate athlete. I definitely don’t take it for granted.  

It’s a reminder that if you put in the hard work and dedication, anything is possible.

JM: Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence? You played with some pretty decent quarterbacks.

XK: Right? (laughs). They most definitely are. Those are two very special people right there.

JM: What’s your favorite part of playing on the defensive line?

XK: That’s a great question. I love so many aspects of it. That’s a tough question because I’m not sure that I could provide you with just one. I guess I’ll go with being able to hit somebody and not suffering for it. I love the violent aspect of the game. It truly is an art form. It takes great technique to play this position at a high level. I’ve been very fortunate to get coached up by some great coaches. They taught me how to survive in the trenches. My favorite part of playing the position? Sacking the quarterback, probably. Getting after the quarterback is my favorite part.

JM: To follow up on that, would you say you’re more developed as a pass rusher or run stopper at this point in time?

XK: That’s another great question. I would say I’m very balanced. I have a balanced skill set. I obviously love sacking the quarterback. There’s nothing like applying pressure on the signal-caller. Stuffing the run and plugging up the line of scrimmage is also very rewarding. I love both of them.

JM: Drawing is one of your off-field hobbies. I love that. I checked out some of your work on social media and it’s really incredible. How did you get into that?

XK: I’ve always loved to draw. I’ve been drawing and sketching since I was a little boy. I’ve always had a passion for it. When I’m bored or feel like I don’t have anything to do, I’ll just pick up a pen and paper and start drawing. Some of the artwork you probably saw on social media was my digital artwork. That’s something that I use a tablet and a stylus for. I actually use Adobe products for that. I use software called Adobe Draw.

I was actually able to land an internship with Adobe in San Jose, California. That was an amazing experience. I was introduced to the world of digital artwork at Clemson and I loved it. It was very exciting for me. I had an opportunity to bring color to my artwork. It gave me the inspiration to link my art with my life. I’ve always had a passion for drawing.

JM: I absolutely love that. When you sign your first professional contract a few months from now, you’re going to have to draw yourself in your new colors.

XK: I am most definitely going to do that (laughs). I absolutely have to make that happen.

JM: I’ve really appreciated your time today, Xavier. In closing, why should an NFL team use one of their draft picks on Xavier Kelly?

XK: I’m a great athlete for my size. There aren’t a lot of big guys that can move as well as I can. I lead by example. I’m not a troublemaker. I believe in the power of positive reinforcement. I love to energize my teammates. I want to help them become better players.

I’ve played in two National Championships. I’ve played at the highest level and I know what it takes to win. I’ve been surrounded by so many hard-working people, players that went on to become first-round picks. I watched and studied their work ethics. I took what I learned from those experiences and applied it to myself. I’m going to help instill the same work ethic into my future teammates. I believe in working hard.

To summarize, I have a great work ethic, I’m an excellent athlete for my size, I’m a natural-born leader, and I’ve been a part of a winning program. I’m going to bring all of these things with me to the next level.

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