Tight end is an important position in fantasy leagues, especially in leagues where scoring is 1 point per reception or 1.5 PPR for the tight end featured in WCOFF and FFPC scoring. Over the years, the position has developed into a hybrid wide receiver role with several players excelling from a fantasy perspective rivaling the best of the league's wide receivers in production. The number of players who can put up stats similar to the best wide receivers are few and far between, which further emphasizes the existence of position scarcity among the league's crop of tight ends. The term "elite tight end" is a valuable piece to your roster, if you are lucky enough to have one. An elite tight end on the gridiron is the equivalent of a queen on a chess board. Your chances of winning your weekly match ups and in turn your league, are greatly improved if you can assemble an average or above average team with an elite tight end. The price of such a player is rather high, which makes finding the next one to emerge a more challenging, but rewarding task.
Is Travis Kelce an elite tight end?
To answer that, let's break down what it would take to qualify. Over the last three years, tight ends who have reached 200 fantasy points (PPR scoring) or 140 fantasy points (standard scoring) have averaged a Top 5 finish. Last year, Travis Kelce had 67 receptions on 87 targets for 862 yards and 5 touchdowns or 189.20 fantasy points (PPR) and 122.20 (standard). He fell short of reaching the elite benchmark, but close enough to be considered one of the best up and coming young tight ends in the league. The 2014 season wasn't officially Kelce's rookie year, but he didn't register a statistic playing in one game in 2013, his official rookie season. Microfracture surgery on his knee kept him out of action for every game in 2013, except one, where he was hardly a factor. The 2014 season was Kelce's first chance to showcase his skills and talents against NFL defenses. The Chiefs kept his snaps and involvement in check as he shared duties with teammate Anthony Fasano for most of the season. He had moments of brilliance in some weeks and teased his faithful owners who hoped for a breakout to happen, but the Chiefs continued to keep him on a leash limiting his fantasy potential. Some opinions suggest he failed to deliver based on high expectations, but he was impressively efficient when he touched the ball. Despite the apparent shortcomings, he finished as the 6th best tight end. The future is bright for the third year pro entering his second season of action.
Reasons to expect a further breakout is coming
1. Kelce ran 378 routes last year, which was 20th among tight ends. This further illustrates the duty-sharing with Anthony Fasano. In the offseason, Fasano was released and later signed with the Titans. The Chiefs don't have a polished receiving tight end on the roster, other than Kelce. Expect his route totals and percentage of snaps to increase dramatically compared to last year.
2. Kelce led all tight ends with 503 yards after the catch. More than Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. His 9.9 yards per target among tight ends also led the league. The majority of his targets (71%) were less than 10 yards, but his ability to gain yards after the catch is what makes him an offensive threat.
3. The addition of free agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin opens the door for more space over the middle, where Kelce thrives. It's also the preferred location and distance for quarterback Alex Smith, who doesn't have a strong arm to consistently throw deep accurate passes. Shallow and intermediate throws to Kelce is his forte. The threat of a speedy wide receiver will be just enough to keep defenses guessing. Kelce, who shares a similar build to Rob Gronkowski, is a mismatch to opposing linebackers and safeties. He was 8 targets shy of leading the team last year, despite being on the field for only 53% of snaps in the first half of the season. His expected increase and involvement in 2015 could make last year's numbers look miniscule in comparison.
What about the negatives?
You'll be hard-pressed to find many negatives regarding Travis Kelce, but there are some.
1. Alex Smith is a below average quarterback in terms of putting the ball in the end zone. In nine seasons, Smith has topped 20 touchdown passes once, which ironically was 2013 when Kelce was injured and out of the lineup. Smith has never surpassed 3,400 yards passing in a season. If Travis Kelce is the next Gronk, Alex Smith isn't the next Tom Brady. This is a concern that could hinder Kelce from reaching Top 3 status.
2. Jamaal Charles is a big part of the Chiefs offense. He has scored 19 and 14 overall touchdowns in the last two years and has dominated as the Chiefs primary scoring threat. In order for Kelce to reach great heights, the touchdowns will have to be consistent and often. As long as Charles is consistently scoring, this could curtail Kelce's chances of end zone stardom.
3. Kelce is not sneaking up on anyone. He may have been a ninth or tenth round pick last year, but if you want him on your roster in 2015, you'll have to pull the trigger in the third or fourth round of re-draft leagues. The tight end position is top heavy this year. After the top five are off the board, the fantasy production drops off, which means owners who want an elite tight end will be eager to make a move. This includes Kelce. If you want him, you may have to take him earlier than his mid-fourth round ADP.
Travis Kelce's first season of action in the NFL was impressive and amazingly efficient. He was a part-time threat for half of the year and still finished 6th among fantasy tight ends, in an era where top flight tight ends are impressively productive. For all intents and purposes, 2014 was Kelce's rookie season. In the modern NFL era, only Keith Jackson had more fantasy success than Kelce as a rookie tight end. The opportunity for Kelce to thrive as the Chiefs' primary tight end threat is ripe for the taking. He has the talent and ability to be one of the league's best fantasy tight ends. The only concern is whether the Chiefs offense will be potent enough to accommodate both Jamaal Charles and Kelce as consistent, weekly fantasy threats.
Other view points
Rich Hribar of The Fake Football provides an outlook of the 2015 Chiefs and further illustrates how effective Travis Kelce was among other tight ends and more importantly, how small of an overall opportunity he had in comparison to those players.
Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report explains why Kelce is Primed For A Breakout in 2015
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