After a Record-Setting Sunday, Is Travis Kelce the Best Offensive Tight End We’ve Ever Seen?
When you think of the Kansas City Chiefs, explosive offense immediately comes to mind. With Patrick Mahomes under center and Andy Reid calling plays, the Chiefs always put up points; every week, it seems like a different player explodes for a big game. While Mahomes and Tyreek Hill may be the most obvious threats, one man is always a consistent performer when K.C. needs someone to step up: tight end Travis Kelce.
On Sunday, Kelce made NFL history as he reached 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth straight season. But is the Chief the greatest to ever play at the position?
Travis Kelce’s growth into a dominant tight end
While NFL fans know Travis Kelce as a freakishly athletic tight end, he actually started his career in a different position: quarterback.
After playing QB in high school, Kelce took his talents to the University of Cincinnati and joined the football team. He spent one season as a redshirt before taking the field in 2009; he lined up as both a quarterback in the wildcat formation and as a tight end. Everything, however, was about to change.
Kelce failed a drug test and was suspended for the entire 2010 season. When he returned to action, playing quarterback was a thing of the past. He posted an unremarkable first full season as a tight end before exploding for 722 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012. That potential convinced the Kansas City Chiefs to give Kelce a chance; they selected him in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft. There was still another bump in the road, though.
Kelce missed virtually his entire rookie season with the Chiefs due to a knee injury. When he returned to action, however, his talent was evident for all to see. Thanks to a soft pair of hands and the ability to rack up yards after seemingly every catch, the tight end has evolved into one of the Chiefs’ most dynamic players; if Tyreek Hill is Kansas City’s lightning, Kelce is the thunder.
Travis Kelce makes NFL history
On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs easily cruised past the Denver Broncos. Travis Kelce had a big day, pulling in 13 catches for 142 yards, but he only needed one reception to make history.
With his first catch of the day, Kelce became the first NFL tight end to have over 1,000 receiving yards in four consecutive seasons; he had been sharing the current record of three straight seasons with Greg Olsen, who accomplished the feat from 2014 through 2016. While the record is obviously skewed towards the present—not only have NFL offensives become more aggressive, but tight ends are viewed more as skilled players than their predecessors—it’s still an impressive accomplishment.
While Kelce downplayed the achievement, calling it “a bunch of numbers,” his quarterback used the occasion to highlight his value to the club. “How consistent he is on a game-to-game basis is truly special,” Patrick Mahomes explained. “He doesn’t look at stats. He doesn’t look at all that different stuff. … It’s a guy that you want to have on your team.”
Is he the already the best tight end we’ve ever seen?
Despite claiming the receiving yard record, Travis Kelce isn’t the NFL’s best offensive tight end. That’s not to say he’s far from the top, however.
Beyond Kelce, the two other candidates are Tony Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski. To account for their different careers—Gonzalez played 270 games, as compared to Kelce’s 94 and Gronkowski’s 115—it’s best to look at things on a per-game basis. In those stats, Gronk leads the way with an average of 4.5 receptions, 68.4 yards, and .7 touchdowns per outing; Gonzalez finished his career averaging 4.9 receptions, 56 yards, and .4 touchdowns a game; Kelce is currently posting 5.3 receptions, 67.7 yards, and .4 touchdowns each week.
While Tony G deserves a world of credit for redefining the tight end position and being a rock for a roller coaster Chiefs franchise, Rob Gronkowski is probably the most dominant offensive tight end we’ve ever seen. Playing with Tom Brady definitely helped, but the only real strike against him is longevity. 2019, however, will only be Travis Kelce’s sixth full season, and most of those were spent in a mediocre, Alex Smith-led offense; if he and Patrick Mahomes both stay healthy, we’ll have to keep rewriting the tight end record books.