Will KC Chiefs roster four tight ends again in 2022?

KC Chiefs, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
KC Chiefs, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

The Kansas City Chiefs have an excess of tight ends entering the 2022 NFL Draft. Will the team retain all four tight ends in 2022, or are more moves to come?

The franchise great. The steady veteran. The promising rookie. The training camp darling earning his shot. The Kansas City Chiefs had all four on their 2021 roster in the tight end room.

The Chiefs surprised their fans when they retained four tight ends at the beginning of last season. Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Noah Gray, and Jody Fortson all had their own routes and reasons for making the team. Each has a special skill set that head coach Andy Reid wanted to amplify.

“I’m not so sure since we’ve been here that we’ve had four guys like that,” Reid said. “They’re all good football players, so we threw them out there and gave them a shot. They were all excited and looked all right.”

A red-zone play during the preseason showed what keeping all four players could look like. All four tight ends were on the field at once, giving quarterback Patrick Mahomes a gargantuan group of targets on a bootleg pass.

Kelce revealed the formation’s name after the game, calling it “T-Rex”. The formation sent Chiefs’ social media ablaze, thinking of the possibilities with such a formation. It has been several years since the Chiefs reliably and successfully deployed multiple tight-end formations. In 2016 and 2017, Kansas City ranked in the league’s top ten for multiple tight-end groupings. That usage dropped off significantly since 2018, as the team relied more on vertical passes and less on tight ends not named Kelce. But, after the T-Rex formation’s success, Mahomes was rightfully optimistic.

“We can be very flexible,” Mahomes said. “We can put all receivers on the field, we can put all tight ends on the field, kind of whatever it is. Being able to do that in this league, you want to be flexible, you want to be able to throw change-ups at the defenses. When we got all the tight ends out there, it turned into a touchdown.”

The Chiefs using multiple tight ends regularly again excited many people, players included. Unfortunately, those visions did not materialize in 2021. Out of 1,370 offensive plays, the Chiefs only have multiple tight ends on 372 plays. That 27% personnel usage ranked 17th in the league, which was a slight uptick from previous years but not much.

The passing plays with these personnel were relatively successful. From the 168 such plays, Kansas City had a 67% pass completion, 103.9 passer rating, and 12 touchdowns. Mahomes faired better with multiple tight ends, posting better a passer rating and touchdown throw percentage.

The rushing game got in the endzone behind multiple tight ends, recording 11 touchdowns with these personnel. While the rushing yards per carry was lower, the attempts mostly came in short-yardage situations. Also, 35% of rushing plays with multiple tight ends were in the fourth quarter. Kansas City would sensibly bring on extra blockers when trying to run down the clock, but that brings down the statistics of the personnel group.

So, after a sample size of using all four tight ends, will the Chiefs run it back in 2022?

Kelce is a roster lock and cutting bait on Gray after his rookie season makes little sense right now. Bell could be expendable though. He only had 13 targets in 2021, despite playing in 27% of Kansas City’s offensive snaps. He does have immense value as a blocker though, something that the Chiefs could use on the offensive line’s right side.

Fortson took advantage of his opportunities in 2021, with five catches and two touchdowns. He only played 54 snaps though, primarily due to his depth chart position. Fortson tore his Achilles in Week 6 against the Washington Commanders, ending his season prematurely. Fortson is a fan favorite, after joining the team in 2019 as an undrafted free agent. He is a great receiver but brings little if anything as a blocker. He could be the odd man out if his recovery is slow or Kansas City wants to move on.

The Chiefs should make keeping all four tight ends a medium priority. If Kansas City changes its scheme this year, following major player departures, having all four tight ends could be useful.

Also, any team should be prepared for the worst-case scenario. If Kelce is injured, these three tight ends could help fill that hole. Much of Kansas City’s offense runs seamlessly with Kelce, his absence would be noticed. But, between Bell, Gray, and Fortson, the position would still be productive without Kelce.

The Chiefs should make an effort to diversify how multiple tight ends are deployed though. Using multiple tight ends in multiple scenarios prevents tipping the defense off to the play. Reid’s offenses thrive when they are unpredictable, but slow down incredibly when they are predictable. Look no further than the early-season struggles in 2021.

Running it back might not be splashy or interesting, but it makes the most sense. Considering the turnover at wide receiver, offensive tackle Lucas Niang’s injury, and Kelce’s mileage increasing, Kansas City should retain all four tight ends in 2022. All four have experience in the system, are financially palatable, and bring different talents to the field. The Chiefs addressed all other positions last year while rostering Kelce, Gray, Bell, and Fortson. There is little reason why that could not happen again.

Next. The biggest non-draft questions facing the Chiefs. dark