Pardee also gives Kelly the nod. "As far as arm, temperament and leadership, he's it," says the coach. " Bill Walsh can argue that, and so can Shula. But take something like our 'bubble' route, a simple pass that's hard to defend. It's like a tricky layup. Jim was close to 100 percent on those patterns last year. Didn't miss any. And he has to throw on fields with high crowns like this [ Giants Stadium] downhill to those little 145-pound guys. That's passing touch."
"He's also got phenomenal anticipation and reading ability," says offensive coordinator Jenkins. "But his will to win eclipses even those things. His ability to be the best under adverse conditions—he's the best example of that I can think of."
"He could be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL right now—he's got everything you're looking for," says Dick Coury, the former coach of the USFL's Boston- New Orleans-Portland Breakers franchise and now the quarterback coach of the Los Angeles Rams. "He has a quick release and has such a strong arm. And he can throw on the run as well as in the pocket. He doesn't hesitate in running and does a good job. But when he moves around, he wants to throw.
"Kelly can also throw all the balls an offense requires. He can take something off his ball if he needs to. He can be a touch passer and throw deep like Marino. When Mouse Davis left [ Houston], he still could run that run-and-shoot offense. But I really feel he could run any type of offense, be a pocket passer or blend into a rollout offense."
Coury compares Kelly with Marino and San Diego's Dan Fouts in the durability department: "You hit Jim, he gets right back up about as well as anybody I've seen. He appears to be a real good leader, too."
Coury, in fact, believes that Kelly shares many of Marino's strong points. "I'd rate them pretty evenly, but right behind Fouts. If I had to choose a No. 1 quarterback right now, I'd take Fouts. Mainly, I know Dan better. Dan has everything. The difference between the two [Fouts/Kelly] is pretty much development. Dan has just made a lot more throws and learned how to cope with varied defenses. Kelly is certain to improve with experience. There's no question he's more advanced than a lot of NFL quarterbacks because he's been throwing about 40 passes a game for two years."
Frank Kush, the coach of the Arizona Outlaws of the USFL and the former coach of the Colts, says, "Talk about the mechanical things—Kelly is as sound as anybody I've seen, almost unlimited in the things he can do.... I would compare him closely with Dan Marino."
Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys scouting director, grants much of the above and says Kelly "could take an NFL team to the playoffs, just going by what we saw in college." But Kelly's USFL stats are harder to interpret. "We drafted a couple of big players from the USFL, and they didn't do a thing for us," says Brandt. "There aren't many linebackers or defensive backs over there. It's like the old AFL, where the offenses always dominated."
"He's faced good corners and burned them all," counters Jenkins with a trace of irritation. "People with little knowledge forget that he may have better protection and better receivers in the NFL. It's all relative."
Bennett counters with this extra zinger: "He's doing it all on a wing and a prayer right now. If he ever got serious about lifting and conditioning, they'd have to outlaw him. Run a mile? He'll take you to court over it."