In the wake of George Kittle’s injury, Travis Kelce’s consistent production is a rare gift for the Chiefs.
It’s easy to take Travis Kelce for granted.
The Kansas City Chiefs tight end is a model of consistency at the highest of levels, an elite athlete who is an insane mismatch against even top-ranked defenses. His blend of size, speed, and agility is on a rarified level and that says nothing of his hands, his charisma, or his intelligence.
It sounds silly to say Kelce can be under-appreciated, but fans in Kansas City are so used to third down conversions and 1,000-yard seasons that it’s just expected at this point. It’s the same thing that happened when Tony Gonzalez was in town. Somehow K.C. has been blessed with superhuman production at the position for the better part of two-plus decades.
But back to the “taking it for granted” thing.
Here’s what makes Kelce’s ongoing production—that is, an NFL record four straight seasons of 1,000 or more receiving yards—so incredibly unique. On Monday, the NFL’s other truly great tight end, George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers, was likely lost for the duration of the regular season with a broken foot. This comes on the heels of a sprained MCL that cost Kittle two games in the season’s first half.
Kittle is the sort of insane mismatch that Kelce is for K.C., and he’s the linchpin of the 49ers offense. However, he missed two games last season with a knee sprain as well. Until now he’s been a fairly healthy player, but it requires incredible health and a bit of luck to stay on the field for so long. Kelce has been that fortunate, but here Kittle is finding it difficult to stay the course.
The Niners are now experiencing what every other franchise normally experiences. It’s what makes it so difficult for even an elite athlete—a standout among his peers—to enjoy a prolonged NFL career. The Hall of Fame is the ultimate hurdle because, for the most part, it means even elite the most talented athletes have to put up such a tremendous body of work, one typically derailed by health issues.
Think of all the great tight ends taken down while Kelce remains at the top of his game. Rob Gronkowski was the top tight end in the game, but his inability to stay healthy year after year kept him from the sort of long-term achievements that he was obviously capable of. Greg Olsen took significant time to develop into an impact pass catcher, but then injuries took their toll as his age also climbed.
Hunter Henry has never had a chance to take off. Tyler Eifert lost multiple seasons to injury. Both are high draft picks with sizable upsides and yet their careers are more about potential than production.
At this point, Kelce is well positioned to make it five straight seasons with 1,000-plus yards receiving. He’s on pace this season for 12 touchdowns, which would be a personal high in a career that already seems bound for Canton. He has 610 yards through only 8 games, the sort of total receiving yards that would be a good year for most tight ends.
In short, Travis Kelce is just as productive as ever before in 2020 and he’s already well established as the best tight end in the business. Kelce is playing like a man with plenty to prove when there’s very little left for him to accomplish. It’s the sort of sustained production that can make it easy to take for granted—that is, until you see how other teams don’t have the chance to appreciate the same.
We have it lucky in Kansas City. It’s nice to have a reminder of that from time to time.