We are now only days away until all NFL training camps will be underway — and our first real glimpse into the new-look Kansas City Chiefs.
Now that Tyreek Hill will be catching passes in Miami, there is a lot of haziness surrounding the Kansas City offense; there are plenty of new faces that will draw our attention during the Chiefs’ training camp in St. Joseph, Missouri.
But one familiar face still remains. All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce has been a staple of head coach Andy Reid’s offense since 2014. The shrewd veteran has put together six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and has caught at least 92 passes during the last four.
Whatever else happens with the Kansas City offense in 2022, leadership — both on and off the field — should not take a hit while No. 87 is still in the locker room.
Let’s look back at some of Kelce’s 2021 contributions to remind us of the weapon the Chiefs still have at their disposal.
Yards after catch
Kelce is a playmaker at level tight ends rarely reach. He has used the foundation laid by guys like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates to build himself into a modern-day offensive weapon that oozes versatility. The positive plays that ensue once the ball is in his hands are numerous.
This walk-off touchdown catch-and-run against the Los Angeles Chargers in overtime is just one example.
On this play against the Ravens, quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambles to keep the play alive, finally locating Kelce — who cuts across the entire field and makes multiple tacklers miss on the way to the end zone.
On this play, Mahomes hits Kelce on a delayed pop route. The former Cincinnati Bearcat is able to avoid the first tackler — and then accelerates past a few more — until he is finally brought down after a large gain.
Kelce is able to move like a wide receiver in a tight end’s body.
While Kelce can do things that seem magical after securing the football, let’s not overlook his skillset prior to making those catches.
Kelce can get open against man or zone averages — but here, we see him run a nice little out route. He takes advantage of the defender’s inside leverage, freezing him a bit by chattering out with his feet.
On this play, he lines up in the backfield as an H-back and runs a nice corner route into the defense’s soft spot. The run action of this well-designed play draws the linebacker up to the area underneath Kelce’s route — while the deep wrap from the outside receiver occupies the corner over the top just enough to create a window for Kelce.
Following the short motion on this play, Kelce uses a positive stem to reach his landmark before breaking back out and sitting in the window between three defenders. Mahomes delivers an accurate (and timely) pass so Kelce can safely secure the catch.
While it’s rarely mentioned (or even praised), Kelce is one of the league’s most dependable blockers.
Here, he is able to lock up the Dallas Cowboys’ Trevon Diggs to provide an adequate convoy on the reverse to Hill.
On this play, Kelce cuts off the linebacker, thereby securing the seam that the running back finds for an 11-yard gain. Kelce is able to get his head on the correct side, withstand the initial punch and keep his feet moving.
On this toss play, Kelce does a nice job in space — positioning himself between the ball carrier and the defender and then using the defender’s own momentum to ride him past the running back.
As effective as he is blocking and catching passes, he can do damage as a ball carrier, too. On this direct snap, he controls the mesh, reading Micah Parsons as he widens out. Then Kelce pulls, powering into the end zone for the second rushing touchdown of his career.
The bottom line
There are a ton of unanswered questions about how the Kansas City offense will perform at its typical level without Hill — but Kelce is a pillar of the offense who will continue making plays all over the field. Among tight ends, the consistent productivity it provides is pretty much unprecedented.
During the 2022 season, he will turn 33 — but there have been no signs that he is entering the twilight of his career. I think the future Hall of Famer still has plenty more left in the tank.