A great story so far this season, Redskins running back Robert Kelley is making the most of his chance in the NFL. An undrafted rookie out of Tulane, Kelley was no sure thing to make the ‘Skins roster out of training camp, but he ran the ball well and learned the offense, forcing himself on the team. As the season progressed, Kelley kept turning heads, earning playing time, and when Matt Jones was hurt for the Bengals game, the rookie stepped in for his first career start.
“I think he played good, I really do,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said of Kelley’s start in London, where the rook ran 21 times for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins agreed with Gruden.
“As far as running the football, very talented runner, and we knew that,” Cousins said of Kelley.
While the rookie has lots of room to grow – particularly in pass protection and as a receiver out of the backfield – there is one more pressing issue: His nickname.
In Richmond, the story broke about Fat Rob. While in college at Tulane, running backs coach David Johnson dubbed Kelley ‘Fat Rob’ and the nickname stuck with him. Johnson said the name wasn’t just about weight – though Kelley did add about 20 pounds his senior season at Tulane, and it wasn’t all muscle.
Redskins fans seemed to love the Fat Rob moniker, and it can be heard shouted at games and posted on social media whenever Kelley gets a carry. But in recent weeks, as Kelley’s role has grown, a new nickname has emerged, R. Kelly, an homage to the famous singer.
“I heard R. Kelly a lot in high school. The peeing on people and stuff, all that weird stuff,” Kelley said.
Fat Rob didn’t take off as his nickname until college, but for ‘Skins fans it blew up this summer when Jay Gruden broke it out during a press conference.
“‘Fat Rob,’ that’s what is on his backpack,” Gruden said in August. “That’s his nickname in college if you didn’t know that – ‘Fat Rob’ Kelley.”
Few players can pull off two nicknames, so perhaps it’s time Kelley made a choice.
“I don’t really care, I’m just happy what I’m doing. They can call me whatever they want,” the running back said, smiling.
Besides, his last name is spelled Kelley, while the singer is Kelly.
“Some people spell my name wrong anyway, they put Kelly. I had to correct them so many times, ‘put the e on my name.’ [Redskins running backs] Coach [Randy] Jordan always put Kelly on my paper, I have to say ‘no, it’s Kelley.'”
Well, if he’s used to the spelling mistake, is the Redskins runner a fan of the singer?
“I don’t listen to R Kelly like that. I like some of his music,” Kelley said. “‘I believe I can fly?’ That’s straight.”
As the conversation continued, other players in the Redskins locker room began to shout some of the more provocative song title from the R. Kelly catalog. There are plenty. Kelley laughed it off.
“I ain’t no R Kelly fan like that, I don’t be listening to it all day. I understand the stuff he did,” he said, beginning to laugh. “I know all of them. He made my name bad, don’t get mad R. Kelly.”
It seems most of his teammates just call him Rob, unless a certain reporter is asking weird questions about former platinum selling singers. As to what nickname is best, Chris Thompson and Mack Brown had diverging opinions.
“I Like R. Kelly,” Chris Thompson said, “but I think Fat Rob is better.”
“R. Kelly. I like R. Kelly. He ain’t fat though, he’s all muscle,” Mack Brown said.
Brown brought up a good point – whatever happened to earn the nickname Fat Rob, that’s no longer the case. Kelley weighed as much as 250 lbs. his senior season at Tulane, but by his Pro Day, he was down to 225. On the Redskins current roster, he’s listed at 228 lbs.
That’s the important part of the nickname for Kelley, a reminder of what was.
“It reminds me where I come from,” Kelley said. “It reminds me if I take too many breaks, I can get back to fat.”
There is no time for breaks. After his performance in London, Gruden said the Redskins rushing attack now “runs through” Kelley. Healthy again, Jones will get carries in the Redskins offense, as will Thompson, but it seems Kelley has a big opportunity.
Whatever the nickname is, Kelley is just happy to give the fans something to shout about.
“If everybody like it, I love it.”