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The best to ever do it? 20 stats that show how Travis Kelce is one of the best players ever to play the TE position

Jan 24, 2021; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) before the AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs offense possesses an embarrassing abundance of riches when it comes to their talent pool and coaching staff. There’s quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the baby G.O.A.T. seemingly poised to function as the league’s best player for the next decade. Then we have No. 1 wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who has the sort of speed to unlock the best version of the Chiefs offense. And we can’t forget about the brains behind one of the league’s most motion- and RPO-heavy offenses: head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

Teams are usually blessed to have one or two players and coaches who can be considered “elite” at their job. The Chiefs need to use at least two hands to count all of their studs.

And yet, tight end Travis Kelce might just hold the most clout among the group when it comes to historical greatness at this very moment in time. Not to take anything away from the Chiefs’ other ballers, but there’s a growing case to be made that Kelce is one of the single best players ever to play the position.

Any G.O.A.T. argument is a pain; comparing production across decades when both the sport and talent have greatly evolved is borderline impossible. So, instead of ticking off retired legends and Gronk truthers: We’ll simply honor Kelce by looking at 20 stats that demonstrate just how great he’s been since entering the league in 2013. Statistics include playoffs unless otherwise noted.

1. Kelce hasn’t missed a game due to injury since his rookie season back in 2013

A wise man once said: the best ability is availability. No tight end has played more snaps (6,863) or has run more routes (3,948) since 2013.


2. Just 10 players have averaged more yards per route run than Kelce over the past eight seasons

Those studs are Julio Jones, Justin Jefferson, A.J. Brown, George Kittle, Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill, Calvin Johnson, Austin Ekeler and Odell Beckham Jr. This list shrinks to just eight players if we only count things since Mahomes got his start in 2018. As we’ll continue to find out: Kelce is a No. 1 receiver who we happen to label as a tight end.


3. Kelce’s average of 2.54 yards per route run from the slot or out wide ranks fourth among all players with at least 100 such targets since 2018

Only Justin Jefferson (2.67), Julio Jones (2.67) and Michael Thomas (2.59) have been more efficient when working as a true wide receiver. This dominance begs the question: does the tight end positional tag do Kelce a disservice? Clearly he’s (at worst) a top-10 receiver, yet Kelce’s current deal doesn’t even fetch more dollars per year than Sammy Watkins’ original deal with the Chiefs. Sad!


4. Kelce has recorded a position-high 106 missed tackles forced since entering the league

No other player at the position has reached even 65 in a single season. Hell, only Golden Tate (149), Jarvis Landry (107) and Antonio Brown (107) top Kelce when we include wide receivers. Madness.


5. Kelce ranks 12th in yards after the catch per reception among 66 tight ends with at least 100 receptions since 2013

At first glance, a 12th-place finish isn’t “bonkers,” although Kelce deserves credit for picking up YAC even when the play isn’t necessarily designed to enhance this part of his game. Overall, Kelce is the only tight end with a top-12 mark in yards after the catch per reception who also boasts an average target depth of 8 yards.

The reality that this aspect of Kelce’s game appears to be as strong as ever is even more amazing. The man is only 144 days younger than the artist known as Gronk, after all.


6. Kelce has a league-high 126 receptions of at least 15 yards over the past three seasons

The only other members of the triple-digit club are Julio Jones (111), Mike Evans (107), DeAndre Hopkins (102) and Tyreek Hill (101). Sometimes tight end stats are inflated due to their status as the offense’s check-down option, but this has never been the case with Kelce.


7. Kelce is responsible for five of the 18 (28%) regular seasons in which a tight end has gained at least 1,000 receiving yards over the past eight years

Credit to Rob Gronkowski (x3), Greg Olsen (x2) and Darren Waller (x2) for also accomplishing this feat on multiple occasions. Still, Kelce’s mark is truly absurd even among all positions. Only Mike Evans (x7), Antonio Brown (x6), DeAndre Hopkins (x6) and Julio Jones (x6) have cleared the century mark in more regular seasons than Kelce since 2013.


8. Kelce has 17 games with at least 100 receiving yards since 2018; no other tight end has more than 10 such games

The Chiefs’ long-time stud tight end also leads the way with 30 such games since entering the league in 2013. Gronkowski is the next-closest player at 23, and then we have to go all the way down to Zach Ertz (12), Jimmy Graham (12) and Greg Olsen (12). Sheesh.


9. Kelce has caught at least eight passes in 11 games this season — tied for the third-highest mark in NFL history

Only 2019 Michael Thomas (13) and 2002 Marvin Harrison (12) have had more games with at least eight catches in a single season. Kelce has a chance to solidify himself in third and break away from 2015 Julio Jones (11) with another big-time performance in Super Bowl 55.


10. Kelce has recorded 100-plus receiving yards and/or scored a touchdown in eight of his 11 career playoff games

As Santana Moss once said: “Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.”

11. Kelce has been the overall fantasy PPR TE1 in five consecutive seasons

Tony Gonzalez (x5), Rob Gronkowski (x3), Antonio Gates (x2), Jason Witten (x2) and Jimmy Graham (x2) are the only other tight ends with multiple such seasons since 2000.


12. Kelce was one of just seven non-QBs to score over 300 PPR points in 2020

We usually think of three-down running backs and target-hog wide receivers as the premier fantasy assets — but not so fast, my friend! Kelce (312.8 PPR points) joined Alvin Kamara (377.8), Davante Adams (358.4), Dalvin Cook (337.8), Derrick Henry (333.1), Tyreek Hill (328.9) and Stefon Diggs (328.6) as the only non-QBs to score at least 300 PPR points in the 2020 regular season. The reality that Kelce did so in just 15 games is even more impressive. Only 2011 Rob Gronkowski (330.9) and 2013 Jimmy Graham (303.5) are in this club with the Chiefs' superstar.


13. Kelce's average of -13.7 adjusted yards per attempt is the single worst mark of the past 50 years among all players to attempt three-plus passes with at least one completion

The only known kryptonite for Kelce is his passing ability. He’s responsible for one of the bigger train wrecks of a trick play that you’ll ever see.


14. Kelce has posted a PFF receiving grade of 94.5 against single coverage over the past three seasons — the fifth-highest mark in the league

Only Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill and Adam Thielen have graded higher against a single defender among 214 players with at least 25 such targets since 2018. It’s tough even to conceive a strategy to totally shut down Kelce short of treating him like a prime Dez Bryant and doubling him like a punt gunner.


15. Literally nobody has posted a higher PFF receiving grade than Kelce (97.6) against zone coverage since 2018

Kelce has caught 138 of his 175 targets for 1,969 yards and 10 scores when working against zone concepts, the No. 1 mark among all players regardless of position.


16. Kelce has a league-high 138 first downs against primary zone coverage since 2018

The only other players with triple-digit first downs over the past three seasons against Cover 2, Cover 3, Quarters and Cover 6 are DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Robert Woods and Michael Thomas. Attempting to play man coverage against TyFreak is scary, but good luck slowing down Kelce with zone looks.


17. No tight end has made more contested receptions than Kelce (48) since 2013

Gronk (58%) and Austin Hooper (62%) have been superior to Kelce (53%) when it comes to the percentage of contested targets caught. Still, this man has been difficult to stop even when the defense does everything right and is in a position to defend the pass.


18. Kelce has 30 career touchdowns when considered open or wide open; no other tight end has surpassed even 16 such scores over the past eight seasons

Davante Adams (32) is the only player, regardless of position, who has more open or wide-open scores. This stat could arguably be more thanks to Reid’s playcalling excellence. Still, tip your hat to Kelce for consistently finding a way to give his signal-caller an open target in the end zone despite regularly facing all sorts of extra attention from defenses over the years.


19. Kelce’s 121 receptions on targets thrown at least 10 yards downfield are 44 more than any other tight end over the past three seasons

Only Mike Evans (146), DeAndre Hopkins (135) and Julio Jones (135) have more. Attempting to cover the man with a linebacker or safety is essentially giving up. Even assigning a true No. 1 corner on Kelce is far from guaranteed to work.


20. Since 2018, Kelce has an NFL-high 4,546 receiving yards

DeAndre Hopkins (4,389), Tyreek Hill (4,224), Davante Adams (4,188) and Stefon Diggs (4,075) are the only other players to reside in the 4k club. Calling Kelce a tight end almost does him a disservice; he deserves to be in any conversation surrounding the league’s very best receivers.


 

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