Travis Kelce did not have much acclaim when he entered the NFL. But he’s transformed into one of the best tight ends in the league. He and several other tight ends have forced the NFL to rethink how it values the position. In a recent interview, Kelce admits he makes it a point to break the mold of what tight ends used to be. His greatness on the field suggests he’s going about it in the right way.
Travis Kelce is an elite tight end
Kelce was drafted into the NFL at the right time for the right franchise. The Chiefs chose him with the 63rd pick of the 2013 draft in Andy Reid’s first offseason. Reid’s reputation as an offensive genius has only got more pronounced over time. Kelce, after sitting out his entire rookie season due to knee surgery, wasted no time becoming a key player for the Kansas City’s offense.
He was the team’s leading receiver in his first full season and has only become more dominant since then. Kelce has been named to the Pro Bowl in five of the last six seasons. He’s been a First-team All-Pro twice, and made the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s. With 896 yards and seven touchdowns in only 10 games so far this year, he shows no signs of stopping.
Kelce wants to be known as more than an NFL player
Kelce’s standing says as much about the evolution of the tight end as it does his own work. His combination of size, strength, and athleticism make him a standout example of how the tight end position has changed. The position has become more of a priority for teams since players like Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham joined.
Kelce’s skillset is versatile enough that he was the main target for Alex Smith and one of Patrick Mahomes‘ most reliable weapons. Kelce is aware of that history. He uses that knowledge to challenge the old stereotypes of the position. He spoke about his ambitions during an interview on the All The Smoke podcast.
“I think a lot of people try to build the stereotype of a tight end like, “‘Oh, he’s big, he can run a couple routes, but he doesn’t have the whole route tree.’ I was watching the wide receivers run routes and [thinking], ‘I can run that route, just give me the opportunity to run it,’ Kelce said. He explained that he worked on his mentality of not letting himself get “boxed in” by what a stereotypical tight end is.
“That’s why I watch everybody in the league, whether it’s the third-stringer in Atlanta or the starting tight end in San Fran,” the tight end explained. “I’m watching to see what they’re doing to have success, and how I can implement that into my game, especially if it’s something that’s dominating.”
The tight end position has evolved for the better
The tight end was long treated like an afterthought in offenses. But that reality is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Kelce’s main competition for “best tight end” is George Kittle. The 49ers tight end put up incredible numbers in San Francisco despite mediocre quarterbacks (until he broke his foot a few weeks ago).
Zach Ertz was a great outlet for the Eagles until Carson Wentz forgot how to quarterback. Mark Andrews was a key part of the exhilarating Baltimore Ravens offense last year. Unfortunately, he’s had his wings clipped by Lamar Jackson’s inconsistent output this season.
At the moment, no one combines individual and team success like Kelce. But the next generation of tight ends will model the games after him.