RSP NFL Lens: What Separates Travis Kelce From Humans at the TE Position

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens showcases a play by Kansas City’s Travis Kelce that illustrates why mobility and physicality are two of the significant traits in his game that makes him the top tight end in the league who unlocks this Chiefs’ offense.  

Apologies to Tyreek Hill, but Travis Kelce’s game makes a strong argument that he’s the most valuable receiver in the Chiefs offense. Both receivers stretch the field, offer dynamic skill after the catch, and can be used in a variety of spots in the offense—including jet sweeps and shovel passes.

Hill’s elite speed will win over most fans as the reason he holds an edge. I prefer Kelce because he’s also a skilled in-line blocker, which means that as long as the Chiefs have decent receivers—not even an elite one like Hill—Kelce will still draw mismatches and create mismatches for other teammates because of his potential use in-line, the slot, and split wide.

Whether or not you buy my argument, the true point of this NFL Lens is to share what we should be observing about Kelce’s game that will help us identify dynamic talents at the tight end position when evaluating the college game. There are numerous items on the list, but the two that stand out for me are mobility and toughness.

The first thing that caught my eye about Kelce at the University of Cincinnati was mobility. It’s unusual when a tight end can bend at the ankles, knees, and hips with the range of a primary wide receiver and explode in and out of breaks at his size.

Here’s Kelce running a whip route against a tight end while he’s split wide from the formation. We expect a tight end to be a size and reach mismatch for a defensive back, which leads us to think of the player running a fade. We don’t expect the tight end to also earn the mismatch due to his suddenness and bend—especially against a cornerback.

When a tight end can beat a cornerback one-on-one with this specific route it makes an offense especially dangerous because Kelce must be treated equally as a wide receiver and a tight end and his range of “go-to” routes are broad enough that a specific assignment gameplan based on alignments won’t be as effective.

Kelce’s mobility also extends to his range of motion with the ball in the air and the toughness to use his range despite punishment headed his way.

Unlike some tight ends who are really receivers, Kelce has a wide range of uses from the line of scrimmage. Kelce’s physicality and ability to handle physical play reinforce his versatility. Julius Thomas was a fine pass catcher in his prime, but he was known for dropping passes against physical coverage.

Although most teams couldn’t fully expose Thomas’ flaw to the detriment of the Dever offense, Seattle was able to gameplan against him and the offense with physical play. Thomas faltered, Peyton Manning grew impatient, and Seattle’s defense ran away with the Super Bowl title.

Part of a player’s toughness includes his ability to focus and execute after a difficult play. Kelce demonstrates this ability as well.

Kelce’s mobility and toughness are the skills that separate him from normal humans playing the position. It’s also what gives the Chiefs offense a massive degree of flexibility with its offense.

Imagine if Patrick Mahomes begins throwing Kelce fade routes? We might see him break George Kittle’s single-season yardage record and take the touchdown mark, too.

For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), get the 2019  Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge.

Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 each. You can pre-order the 2019 RSP now (available for download April 1).

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