NFL offenses that sustain through the ups and downs of a season have at least one player who begets the description of trustable. Schematic trust and reliance is not necessarily a cool or flashy statement; the description does not earn accreditation in awards or belabored talking points. Yet, trust and consistency are the most important attributes for a franchise’s offensive weapon.
Andy Reid has developed a litany of offensive weapons over his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, but his project in development may boast the most consistency on the field while being the most dynamic off of it. Tight end Travis Kelce is a weapon for the Chiefs who’s always evoked physicality, finesse, and the temperament of shock. Kelce may not be the most prolific name, but between his dominating presence on the field and his endless drive to be a jovial entertainer, Kelce has brought a Hollywood style to the brutal NFL gridiron.
Travis Kelce – Hollywood Style on the NFL Gridiron
Fun Facts and Stats
The pure analytical fun facts for Kelce start back in the off-season before the beating sun was shining in the early mornings of training camp. There was an essence of pride lost when the Chiefs embarrassed themselves by losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. The flat level of play from the offense led to the stark realization that they needed to evolve to become champions. The two players who quietly took on this task in the silence of film and subtle spring mornings were quarterback Alex Smith and his tight end Kelce.
Neither were boisterous about the intense study hours or long-term development put in, but during training camp they modestly admitted to falling in love with the process to become champions. After observing the duo operate together in the pre-season, the meta takeaway was how precise the spirals from Smith to Kelce had become.
Regular season results have reflected the off-season work. Kelce is the most targeted receiver on the Chiefs with 68, catching an incredible 75 percent of those passes (51 receptions) for 629 yards and five touchdowns. Each game plan has a unique way to use his physically imposing 6’5” frame. And all of that is thanks to the hours put in during the off-season.
Yet, those stats only paint half of the picture of the success Kelce is generating in the 2017 season. Kelce is 11th in the NFL in receptions, 12th in total yards, and 14th in yards per game (69.9). For tight ends, he is in the same group with fellow Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots, and on pace with heavily targeted Jack Doyle of the Indianapolis Colts. An argument could be made Kelce is the most efficient tight end in the NFL per catch percentage, yard generation, and importance in scheme.
While Kelce may be having a career year, he is also inserting himself into legendary territory. Kelce will be the 21st tight end to eclipse the 3,000 yard mark by his fifth season. Additionally, he needs 509 yards to surmount the 4,000 yards threshold, becoming only the fifth tight end to achieve that mark in the first five years of a career. Such an achievement will mean surpassing Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Jeremy Shockey, and Ozzie Newsome.
As yards are impressive alone, Kelce would also be on pace with Gronkowski for the second least number of targets needed to reach 4,000 yards. Due to their size and scheme fit importance, Kelce receives an average of 9.31 yards per target, while Gronkowski received 9.54 yards per target. Kelce, however, does pale in comparison on scoring; he only has 19 touchdowns while Gronkowski scored 54.
Hence, both are paving a new model of tight end that is not a mere check down target, but a potent receiver who can pave a dangerous scheme for the offense. In their young careers, both created dynamic functionality. Kelce’s statistical measures reveal only part of his incredible career trajectory. His importance to the Chiefs scheme cannot be undersold.
The past decade in the NFL has seen the growth of the tight end within the passing offense. No longer are teams looking for a mere decent pass blocker, but a multi-functional technical player who has mastered a craft. The likes of Gonzalez, Witten, and Antonio Gates displayed such technique with crisp routes and a frame for boxing out defenders. The past NFL Draft saw the culmination of the tight with weapons O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, and David Njoku being selected in round one.
Kelce embodies the modern NFL tight end technique, being drafted as a premier prospect from Cincinnati in the third round of the 2013 draft. He spent his first season out with microfracture surgery, but was worked in as an essential target for the 2014 season. His technique began with the aforementioned 6’5” frame built of lean muscle and traversed to lightning agility for crisp routes.
Technicians like Kelce operate with their feet and hips to shake corners and linebackers in a three-stop process. First, within the first few steps of the route, receivers need to control their footwork, so they do not step outside of their shoulder radius – hence, crispiness and control.
Second, Kelce combines that agility with a catch radius developed off his frame, but complete with hand combat technique to launch himself free from press coverage. Thus, a wider catch radius builds more value based on security in possession.
Third, Kelce completes his technique with the ability to control corners, manipulating them to escape after the catch. If he can turn a corner inside due to his size and “box-out” work, then he can turn outside and generate yards after the catch.
Rarely do tight ends embody all three levels in the pass game. The level of value Kelce brings has allowed Reid to make him a dynamic weapon. Kelce will be found lined up either on the line of scrimmage, or positioned slightly outside in the slot. This allows for defensive manipulation as there is no specific tell for whether he will be blocking or catching a pass.
Furthermore, the multiple tight end set allows for him to stay in and chip block, then release unguarded into the short range of the field. Due to the motion sets Reid utilizes, Tyreek Hill or Albert Wilson will pull a linebacker slightly out of position to cover the tight end. Thus, Kelce will clean up in short to medium yardage routes where he ascertains most of his yards in short combat.
However, Kelce’s displays his jaw-dropping versatility when he launches deep against linebackers or cornerbacks. Those post routes are built off transition routes from a wide receiver or running back drawing safety eyesight away from Kelce as he runs a deep post.
The deep post route is where Kelce has definitively progressed this year. Smith knows exactly when and how to place the ball over the defender in a position only Kelce can get to. He has been targeted 19 times in the deep cones, catching 13 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns – a stat line that leads the Chiefs in deep passing, proving how much the off-season work has paid helped two players become brothers.
The Unpredictable Hollywood Demeanor
The demeanor of Travis Kelce adds another layer of brevity to the young tight end’s career. He has put himself in the Hollywood lime light, as well as the light of NFL fines. While some of his antics, such as a potato sack race as a touchdown celebration, are endearing, other antics are not so much.
One of the more memorable moments from the 2016 season was Kelce’s ejection against the Steelers. After a no call pass interference, Kelce took his towel and threw it in the vicinity of the referee, as if he were throwing the penalty flag – an ejection, penalty, and fine were in store.
However, Kelce’s downside does not stop there. He has been flagged for multiple personal fouls not due to unnecessary roughness, but unnecessary verbiage and gestures toward opponents. He is a wizard with words and knows how to get into the mind of the defense by stating what he thinks, when he thinks. His boisterous nature may be fun at times, but does lead to moments of immaturity.
Immaturity was on full display after the Steelers playoff loss where he dropped a post game bomb on the referees despite playing poorly himself. However, it may have been this exact moment where he realized he needed to learn how to evolve as a responsible leader in 2017. After all, maturity and having fun are not mutually exclusive.
His propensity to play into the lime light of a group, for better or worse, dates back to his freshman year at Cincinnati. After getting caught smoking weed, he lost his scholarship and had to earn his way back onto the Bearcats team. He would spend time trying to become more responsible in life and assume a dedicated work ethic. Those final years at Cincinnati paints Kelce’s nature to combine entertainment, popularity, and work ethic.
Dedication to the football field and undying work ethic in the weight room transitioned the joe-cool demeanor to an intense, albeit overly tight, football warrior. He has still not lost the trash-talk that is begotten from his passion, but has realized the best medium for antics is to win on the field.
Naturally, that winning has enabled a Hollywood stardom off the field. Football is entertainment after all, and from a dating show to bright and innovative suits, Kelce has become an entrepreneur Hollywood entertainer. No matter where he goes, Kelce directs the lights and emboldens his passionate character.
In the end, however, that inability to separate entertainment and football is what has derived the best and worst of Travis Kelce. Fire and entertainment brings out his desire to be a technician on the field. He will always be one to bring about controversy with his open mind, but at the same time will never back down from his thoughts, dynamic play style, or stylized suits.
In his own unique way, Kelce has intertwined football, Midwest America, and Hollywood to become one of the most fascinating NFL characters.