Nick Keizer and the difficulty of growing in front of NFL fans
By Matt Conner
Nick Keizer is just the latest Chiefs player exhibiting painful growing pains on the field.
The story of Nick Keizer, NFL tight end was quite a bit different only a chapter or two ago.
Just before the 2020 NFL season began, Keizer was a promising story as a third-year tight end who had worked very hard to beat out more well-known or more experienced competition for a spot immediately behind Travis Kelce. He was a young offensive prospect on the defending Super Bowl champs who would learn on a daily basis from the best player at his position. He’d also catch passes from the NFL’s best overall player.
To get to that spot, Keizer had staved off offseason competition from the likes of the newly signed free agent Ricky Seals-Jones, a solid pass catching import from the Cleveland Browns, and a holdover vet in Deon Yelder. Seals-Jones had the production. Yelder had the seniority (by a season). Keizer beat them both.
Keizer first joined the Chiefs in the spring before their Super Bowl run, as a post-draft signing to bolster the competition at tight end after he’d previously hung on with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent. Keizer was a star from Grand Valley State who made the Ravens practice squad in his rookie campaign. However, it’s hard to make an impact at a position when a team has Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, Nick Boyle, and Maxx Williams.
So Keizer began to climb the ranks with the Chiefs, who enjoy the riches of having Kelce in his role atop the depth chart, but who also have struggled to find someone who can consistently catch the ball in the TE2 role. From Demetrius Harris to Blake Bell and Ross Travis to James O’Shaughnessy, the rotation feels like an annual tradition to shove someone new into the role.
This was Keizer’s turn.
Unfortunately for Keizer, it’s been a rough go of it so far in 2020. To his credit, the opportunities for a second tight end in this loaded Kansas City offense aren’t numerous to begin with. However, the mistakes have been painful to watch on the field.
On Sunday, Chiefs Kingdom was excited to see Le’Veon Bell on the field for the first time. Yet on his first play, Keizer was the target of a nice pass that then was fumbled back to the Denver Broncos. Instead of watching the team drive with Bell in the backfield, everyone instead watched the backup tight end turn the ball over to a division rival.
Unfortunately, Keizer’s very bad day against the Broncos would only get worse after a poor block (or blocking attempt) led to Patrick Mahomes taking a nasty hit. If you surfed social media in any form while watching the game, it was clear that fans were done watching Keizer play. Internet commenters aren’t exactly known for healthy perspectives, so you can imagine the feedback.
Herein lies the issue for a young player like Keizer. He’s playing in his first official NFL games in 2020 after having no preseason with which to get ready for the role. He came into the year as an ascending young talent known for his blocking skills who was developing as a receiver.
In the pre-draft season, Keizer showed great strength as he put up four more bench reps at his pro day than any other tight end at the Combine. He had 45 catches and 11 touchdowns in his final collegiate season. His coaches raved about his two-way ability, and the NFL certainly values players who can do both at the tight end position—an increasing rarity as players often specialize as one or the other.
So what is a team like the Chiefs supposed to do at this juncture? It makes sense to trust the player who has made the mistake before because he’s been on the other side. He knows what not to do as much as he knows what to do. At the same time, the moment he’s back out there on the receiving end of another target from Mahomes will be the same time that fans are complaining about the team’s decision making.
It’s hard for an NFL player to experience growing pains in front of a fan base when it matters most. In a year where there was no preseason to allow for these sort of mistakes in a forgiving environment, the pains are even greater. Here’s hoping for both the Chiefs and Nick Keizer that the young tight end is able to learn and grow from such obvious miscues in the spotlight and develop into the sort of player envisioned by the coaching staff.