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Player Spotlight: Travis Kelce

A detailed look at Travis Kelce's fantasy prospects 

positives

  • Kelce is the centerpiece of the passing offense, as the team's best wide receiver is Tyreek Hill
  • He has developed into a premier route runner, which mirrors well with his aggressiveness at the point of attack
  • Alex Smith is a veteran quarterback who doesn't throw deep and completely trusts Kelce

Negatives

  • Kelce hasn't been a prolific touchdown scorer
  • With Jeremy Maclin gone, defenses will key on Kelce more than ever
  • Alex Smith is never going to elevate the Chiefs offense to elite levels

Promise Fulfilled

It took Travis Kelce four seasons, but he finally reached the pinnacle of fantasy stardom. Kelce finished last season as the #1 fantasy tight end: 117 targets, 85 receptions, 1,125 yards and four touchdowns. Kelce’s rise to the top wasn’t sudden; he’s shown marked improvement in each season:

  • 2013 – Injured Rookie Season
  • 2014 – 67 for 862 yards (12.9 per catch) and five touchdowns (TE9)
  • 2015 – 72 for 875 yards (12.2 per catch) and five touchdowns (TE6)
  • 2016 – 85 for 1,125 yards (13.2 per catch) and four touchdowns (TE1)

Target Dominance

The majority of the dominant fantasy tight ends benefit from an inordinate share of targets, and Kelce is a textbook example.

Kansas City Tight End Targets, As a % of Total

  • 2014 – 27.0% (5th in NFL)
  • 2015 – 26.9% (6th)
  • 2016 – 29.2% (3rd)

Total Targets, Tight Ends (2014-16)

RankFirstLastYearsTgts
1 Greg Olsen 2014--2016 376
2 Delanie Walker 2014--2016 338
3 Travis Kelce 2014--2016 307
4 Zach Ertz 2014--2016 303
5 Jimmy Graham 2014--2016 295
6 Rob Gronkowski 2014--2016 289
7 Jason Witten 2014--2016 286
8 Martellus Bennett 2014--2016 282
9 Antonio Gates 2014--2016 275
10 Jordan Reed 2014--2016 265

Roster Moves Guarantee Another Target-Rich Year

Jeremy Maclin was released (and is now in Baltimore), which leaves an already-thin receiving corps starving to competent options.

FirstLastPosCareer Recs
Travis Kelce TE 224
Albert Wilson WR 82
Tyreek Hill WR 61
Chris Conley WR 61
Gavin Escobar TE 30
Demetrius Harris TE 27
Orson Charles TE 9
Corey Washington WR 5
Ross Travis TE 3
Seantavius Jones WR 0
Demarcus Robinson WR 0
Jehu Chesson WR 0

The Chiefs may have the least experienced receiving corps in the league. For a veteran team with a veteran quarterback, it's essentially impossible to craft a fundamental case where Kelce isn't among the most targeted tight ends week in, week out.

Can Kelce's Touchdown Rate Improve?

The only thing keeping Kelce from being viewed alongside Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates (in his prime), is an uninspiring touchdown rate. Over the last decade, Kelce's 4.6% touchdown rate (touchdown catches to targets) ranks 45th among qualified tight ends.

Touch Down Rate, Tight Ends (2007-2016, Minimum: 100 Targets)

RankFirstLastYearsTgtsRecsRecTDsTD%
1 Julius Thomas 2011--2016 289 185 33 11.4%
2 Tyler Eifert 2013--2016 179 123 20 11.2%
3 Rob Gronkowski 2010--2016 617 405 68 11.0%
4 Dwayne Allen 2012--2016 199 126 19 9.5%
5 Joel Dreessen 2007--2013 223 153 19 8.5%
6 Kevin Boss 2007--2012 250 149 21 8.4%
7 Antonio Gates 2007--2016 944 632 77 8.2%
8 Anthony Fasano 2007--2016 436 272 35 8.0%
9 Donald Lee 2007--2011 192 145 15 7.8%
10 Zach Miller 2009--2016 168 126 13 7.7%
11 Jimmy Graham 2010--2016 763 498 59 7.7%
12 Richard Rodgers 2014--2016 161 108 12 7.5%
13 Visanthe Shiancoe 2007--2013 334 210 24 7.2%
14 Vernon Davis 2007--2016 762 485 54 7.1%
15 Kyle Rudolph 2011--2016 417 265 29 7.0%
16 Aaron Hernandez 2010--2012 260 175 18 6.9%
17 Dallas Clark 2007--2013 585 384 39 6.7%
18 Scott Chandler 2010--2015 317 205 21 6.6%
19 Jermichael Finley 2008--2013 321 223 20 6.2%
20 Jeff Cumberland 2010--2015 161 86 10 6.2%
21 Daniel Fells 2008--2015 178 113 11 6.2%
22 Jordan Reed 2013--2016 324 248 20 6.2%
23 Larry Donnell 2013--2016 159 107 9 5.7%
24 Garrett Graham 2011--2015 177 100 10 5.6%
25 Todd Heap 2007--2012 286 183 16 5.6%
26 Ben Watson 2007--2015 563 354 31 5.5%
27 Tony Gonzalez 2007--2013 912 602 50 5.5%
28 Jermaine Gresham 2010--2016 509 333 27 5.3%
29 Greg Olsen 2007--2016 1001 620 52 5.2%
30 Lance Kendricks 2011--2016 330 204 17 5.2%
31 Fred Davis 2008--2013 253 161 13 5.1%
32 Charles Clay 2011--2016 409 269 21 5.1%
33 Coby Fleener 2012--2016 392 233 20 5.1%
34 Brent Celek 2007--2016 593 385 30 5.1%
35 Martellus Bennett 2008--2016 596 403 30 5.0%
36 Gary Barnidge 2008--2016 285 178 14 4.9%
37 Delanie Walker 2007--2016 634 403 31 4.9%
38 Clay Harbor 2010--2016 166 114 8 4.8%
39 Heath Miller 2007--2015 713 517 34 4.8%
40 Daniel Graham 2007--2011 168 104 8 4.8%
41 Tony Scheffler 2007--2013 383 238 18 4.7%
42 Jordan Cameron 2011--2016 301 174 14 4.7%
43 Marcedes Lewis 2007--2016 583 338 27 4.6%
44 Jeff King 2007--2012 240 155 11 4.6%
45 Travis Kelce 2014--2016 307 224 14 4.6%
46 John Carlson 2008--2014 337 210 15 4.5%
47 Ed Dickson 2010--2016 249 148 11 4.4%
48 Owen Daniels 2007--2015 704 445 31 4.4%
49 Mychal Rivera 2013--2016 231 146 10 4.3%
50 Jason Witten 2007--2016 1175 837 49 4.2%
51 Dustin Keller 2008--2012 412 241 17 4.1%
52 Dante Rosario 2007--2014 199 116 8 4.0%
53 Desmond Clark 2007--2010 175 105 7 4.0%
54 Dennis Pitta 2010--2016 327 224 13 4.0%
55 Zach Miller 2007--2014 507 328 20 3.9%
56 Jeremy Shockey 2007--2011 353 233 13 3.7%
57 Jacob Tamme 2008--2016 386 257 14 3.6%
58 Zach Ertz 2013--2016 360 247 13 3.6%
59 Kellen WinslowJr 2007--2013 624 375 22 3.5%
60 Brandon Pettigrew 2009--2015 485 302 17 3.5%
61 Eric Ebron 2014--2016 201 133 7 3.5%
62 Chris Cooley 2007--2012 408 264 14 3.4%
63 Jared Cook 2009--2016 522 304 17 3.3%
64 Brandon Myers 2009--2016 293 199 9 3.1%
65 Bo Scaife 2007--2010 281 182 8 2.8%
66 Randy McMichael 2007--2012 234 143 6 2.6%
67 Rob Housler 2011--2015 175 109 1 0.6%

Kelce is 6'5", 255 pounds. He runs fluid routes, is aggressive, and has good hands. There's no logical explanation for his touchdown woes. The most plausible explanation is Alex Smith. Smith's career touchdown rate is 3.8%. Kelce exceeds Smith's average TD-per-target rate, but just barely. Compare that to Rob Gronkowski (11.4% vs. Tom Brady's 5.5%) or Tyler Eifert (11.2% vs. Andy Dalton's 4.6%). Kelce doesn't garner a disproportionate amount of his team's scoring. He should. Can we expect positive mean regression, or is Kelce simply one of those players who doesn't produce in the end zone (a la Jason Witten)? 


Projections

YEAR GRECYDTD
2014 KC 16 67 862 5
2015 KC 16 72 875 5
2016 KC 16 85 1125 4
2017 PROJ-Dodds 16 82 1033 7
2017 PROJ-Henry 16 86 1090 5
2017 PROJ-Wood 16 82 1050 6
2017 PROJ-Tremblay 16 82 1004 5

Final Thoughts

Travis Kelce may be the best tight end in the NFL. Rob Gronkowski has the strongest claim to that title, but his injuries narrow the gap. Kelce is in his prime, has the perfect combination of size, speed, hands, and aggressiveness, and is coming off a #1 ranking season. Although the Chiefs offense is conservative and Alex Smith hampers the passing game, we know that Kelce can (and has) been the best fantasy option at his position with Smith under center. The Chiefs enter this season with an astoundingly inexperienced receiving corps, which guarantees Kelce targets in all game situations. Kelce is as sure a bet for 100+ targets and 1,000 yards as it gets at the position. If he manages to catch a few more touchdowns, Kelce could not only be a top-tier fantasy option; he could be a league winner. 


Other Perspectives

4for4's John Paulsen gives his perspective on Kelce and Tyreek Hill:

"Both players saw a bump when Maclin was out, but Hill’s involvement basically doubled, as he saw twice as many targets and caught more than twice as many passes. Both players (weirdly) scored fewer touchdowns without Maclin, which indicates that their “without Maclin” upside is even higher as those touchdowns likely regress to the mean (i.e., increase)."

Matt Waldman views Kelce as one of the safest plays on the board:

"The Chiefs tight end may not be the best fantasy tight end contributing to a fantasy-rich offense, but he's among the safest. When it comes to the percentage of quarterback targets earned in an offense, Kelce has two of the top eight seasons for tight ends since 2012. Kelce also has three of the top seven seasons during that span for the percentage of quarterback passing yards. While touchdowns get headlines, yardage and targets have greater consistency. I also appreciate Kelce's track record of durability. Look for Kelce and Tyreek Hill to be atop Alex Smith's target totem once again."