How good is Travis Kelce?


Sep 21, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end

Travis Kelce

(87) leaps over Miami Dolphins cornerback

Cortland Finnegan

(24) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Chiefs won 34-15. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs fans are, I imagine near universally, glad that Travis Kelce plays for Kansas City. But how good is the third-year man out of Cincinnati?

As much as the Chiefs wide receivers have been maligned for not having caught a single touchdown pass last season, Alex Smith still managed to throw for 18 of them. Kelce accounted for nearly one-third of those catches with five touchdowns.

Kelce also managed to snag the highest number of receptions on the team at 67, even though he was only the second-most targeted at 87. In fact, all of Kelce’s receiving stats were at the top of the rankings for the team. He accumulated the highest number of receiving yards (862), the highest number of receptions per game (4.2), and the highest number of yards per game (53.9). The few areas where he had to share glory were in number of receiving touchdowns, where he tied with Jamaal Charles, and in yards per reception, where his 12.9 were second only to Albert Wilson‘s 16.3.

Of course, it did not hurt that Wilson also possessed one of the longest single catches of the season at 48 yards. This was Kelce’s worst statistical receiving category. His longest catch was a respectable 34 yards, but that placed him behind Knile Davis, Wilson, Jason Avant and Dwayne Bowe.

More from Kansas City Chiefs News

If that was the worst part of his game last year, I don’t think it is too far-fetched to say that Kelce was the Chiefs’ most potent receiving threat of the 2014 season. According to RotoWorld, he was rated above average for tight ends in every week he played, with the exception of Week 10 against Buffalo. Oh, and he managed to achieve that while starting only 11 of 16 games.

Historically, that is a great start.

Some of the NFL’s great tight ends have had better overall seasons during their second year in the league. However, because of injury, 2014 was effectively Kelce’s first year. When looking at first years of regular playing time, Kelce compares well with top talent like Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates.

The first area of note is that Kelce was used more than either of those players. In their first seasons playing, Kelce had more targets and more receptions than Graham and Gates combined. As you might imagine, he also had more receiving yards than the other two combined as well.

Kelce’s five touchdown catches tied Graham’s first-year total, and beat out Gates, who had only two. Kelce also had a better catch percentage than either of them, and higher yards per reception than Graham.

So the beginning of Kelce’s career lines up well with some of the best players at his position who are currently in the NFL.

When it comes to playing tight end though, there is no higher honor for a Chief than to be compared to the great Tony Gonzalez. Yet, Kelce’s sophomore season compares favorably with that of the legendary No. 88 (the first year where he started a game).

Feb 1, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez walks the red carpet prior to the NFL Honors at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In 1998, a 22-year-old Gonzalez recorded 59 receptions for 621 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also ended the season averaging 38.8 yards per game and 3.7 yards per reception. His longest catch went for 32 yards. Every one of those stats is worse than what Kelce accomplished in 2014, even though Gonzalez was targeted more often than Kelce (103 vs. 87) and started every game of the season.

In fact, over the rest of his career, Gonzalez never started fewer than 15 games and was targeted at least 99 times every season. If you weren’t already aware, the man was a beast. Even so, Kelce’s 2014 receiving yards are higher than what Gonzalez recorded in six different seasons.

And then there is the pièce de résistance. In 2014 Kelce caught 77 percent of the passes thrown his way. That level of efficiency was something No. 88 never achieved in any of his 17 seasons in the league. It is also almost 10 percentage points higher than Gonzalez’s career catch percentage of 67.6. (as a sidenote, this is also true in comparisons against Graham and Gates, who have career catch percentages of 64.1 and 66.6, respectively.)

Please do not get me wrong here. I am not saying that Kelce is better than, or even the same as, Gonzalez. The latter made a career out of being exceptional, and has earned the right to be considered one the all-time greats at his position. The former has had one very good season.

The same holds true for comparison with players like Gates and Graham. They have earned their respect through consistent levels of high performance over years of playing. No. 87 has an entire career ahead of him, and it still remains to be seen if he can consistently put up number like he did last season.

But if past is precedent, then the Chiefs should be treating their fans to outstanding tight end play for years to come.

HAIL TO THE CHIEFS!! (and to Travis Kelce)

Statistics courtesy of