Appreciating Travis Kelce's Trajectory

Photo Credit: Denny Medley (USA TODAY Sports)

Everyone knows Travis Kelce is great, but are we really appreciating what he’s doing? Saying that Kelce is the best tight end in the NFL is like saying water is wet. Everybody knows it and nobody will bat an eye if you tell them so. Sure, Darren Waller has been productive over the last two seasons and George Kittle was an upper-echelon tight end before an injury derailed his 2020 season. However, neither of them is near Kelce’s level.

Over the last five years, he caught 368 passes for 4,728 yards and 27 touchdowns. Moreover, he’s averaged 12.8 per reception in the same span and has registered five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. That’s the kind of production you expect from a wide receiver, not from a tight end. He’s not lacking individual accolades either. He’s earned six Pro Bowl selections, three First-Team All-Pro designations, and made the Hall of Fame’s All-2010 Team.

Kelce is probably the Kansas City Chiefs’ most valuable player not named Patrick Mahomes. As important as wide receiver Tyreek Hill is to the team’s offensive success, defenses can’t zero in on him because Kelce draws coverage away from Hill. Kansas City’s offense would take a significant hit if Kelce were to miss time with injury because opposing teams would double-team Hill.

Why isn’t the national media talking more about Kelce?

In spite of all Kelce’s production, you won’t hear about him being one of the best ever, even though he’s quietly putting together a career worthy of a golden jacket. Not long ago, the University of Cincinnati product made the news because he shaved his facial hair. However, not many fans are talking about the fact he could rank in the top 5 of career receiving yards as soon as this year.

Kelce currently has 7,881 but if he posts another 1,000-yard season — a feat he’s achieved every season over the last five years — he could pass Jackie Smith (9th), Ozzie Newsom (8th), Jimmy Graham (7th), Rob Gronkowski (6th) and Greg Olsen (5th) on the All-Time list.

But wait, there’s more.

If Kelce keeps playing at the same level, he has a realistic shot to rank third All-Time. Shannon Sharpe is fourth with 961 yards while Antonio Gates is third with 11,841 yards. Barring major injuries, Kelce could pass both in four seasons at this pace.

On the other hand, it would be difficult to surpass Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez because both of them played 17 seasons. Kelce had his first 1,000-yard campaign at 27 and is currently 31. He would most likely need to play seven to eight seasons to beat Gonzales for the top spot, which simply may not be feasible. But third place is nothing to scoff at when it comes to All-Time record.

Beyond the gridiron

The best NFL players earn respect from their peers. Wide receiver Julio Jones is revered around the league. You will often hear players trying to emulate the seven-time Pro Bowler. The same is true for quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Mahomes.

What separates Kelce from other players is that he’s sort of the leader among tight ends in the NFL. He held the Tight End University along with George Kittle and Greg Olsen, a summit where tight ends (duh!) get together, share pointers and get to learn from the best. An invitation to the camp was akin to getting a golden ticket to Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. Everybody wanted one, and a big deal was made of whoever receive or didn’t receive one. Had a player with a lesser profile tried to organize the event, he might not have been able to pull it off.

It’s time we appreciate him

Quarterbacks and wide receivers have the biggest profile on offense. You don’t often hear children wanting to grow up and play center or tight end. Heck, even running backs get more love and they don’t have the same kind of impact on the field they had 30 or 40 yards ago. That may be another reason why Kelce isn’t record-breaking streak isn’t garnering more attention. Take Rob Gronkowski, for example. Even though he’s a surefire Hall-of-Fame tight end, his antics earn more attention than his on-field performance.

It’s time to rectify that, Kelce should make the news more often not because of his fashion choices but because he’s a great player. We don’t have to wait until he retires to acknowledge his contributions when he can do it right now. Next time you watch a Chiefs game and see the tight end catch a pass, remind yourself you’re watching history in the making.

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