In 2021, Travis Kelce proved that he is the best tight end in the league. He took the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season. Kelce had the second-most receiving yards of any player in 2020. He was .3 yards per game away from having the record for the highest yards per game in a single season as well. This is without mentioning that he did all of this on only fifteen games since he sat in Week 17.
Travis Kelce was a finalist for the Offensive Player of the Year award. Some even thought he should have gotten a spot in the MVP conversation. He finally got the 99 overall nod in Madden 22. He got a ton of press this offseason for his work on the tight end university.
Kelce would likely be a Hall of Famer if 2020 had been his only season played. However, he has been elite for several straight seasons now. Not only has he changed the Kansas City Chiefs, but also the tight end position forever.
Many fans may look back on Kelce’s 2020 season and only remember that Super Bowl. Which is reasonable, thinking about anything from the 2020 season immediately brings back memories of maybe the most miserable offensive performance seen on that stage. Travis Kelce’s 2020, however, was much better than that performance.
How Kelce Found Success in 2020
Travis Kelce has been producing at a very high level for so long. 2020 was likely his best year yet, and it was for a clear reason.
Travis Kelce gets a ton of plays drawn up for him in the Andy Reid offense. He is a huge target who does not go down on first contact and can embarrass even the best linebackers. Hit him at full speed and the first down is all but guaranteed.
In 2020, however, he had a much bigger role in the offense. When Patrick Mahomes would be forced out of the pocket and be on the move, Kelce became target number one. His connection with Mahomes is unmatched and he would always know where to be for the save. How defenses would lose track of a 6-5, 260-pound tight end is still a mystery, but Kelce would sneak through like a shadow and save Chiefs’ drive consistently all season.
With the absolute garbage fire that was the Chiefs’ pass protection in 2020, Kelce was put in a position to be very prosperous.
Kelce in 2021
The Chiefs’ executives recognized their failures in pass protection during 2020 and addressed it in the offseason. Signing Joe Thuney, trading for Orlando Brown Jr., and drafting Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith. The Chiefs went all-in on the offensive line this offseason and were very successful in doing that. This will not completely eliminate Mahomes’ need to roll out, but it will seriously limit it.
On top of that, it looks like the Chiefs are more serious about running the ball this season. In training camp, they have shown off quite a few new rushing packages, including G-T counters. The idea is that running the ball a bit more opens up more opportunities to pass and also takes some of the weight off Mahomes shoulders.
Both of these things will directly cut into Kelces’ opportunities.
More rushing reps means fewer passes to go around. More time in the pocket means deeper passes, which will inevitably go to Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Sure, Kelce will still get plays drawn up for him and probably help fill in the open WR2 hole, but that will not be nearly as much attention as he was getting in 2020. Plus, sure, Mahomes is still going to have to roll out sometimes, and Kelce could capitalize on those opportunities, but those will be limited by the new talent upfront.
To clarify the biggest argument there is going to be under this article, this does not diminish Kelce’s claim to being the best tight end in the league. Kelce may not flash his talent on every play or even every game. However, when he gets to, he will remind us all how good he really is.
He also will likely still get quite a few touchdowns this season. If the running game proves to be as dangerous as the team seems to think then defenses will likely sell out for the run in the red zone. This is going to leave Kelce space on play-action to get over the top. As long as Mahomes is still throwing dimes, Kelce can be a touchdown machine.
But those yards we saw in 2020 will likely go way down. He may pass 1000 yards, but he definitely is not surpassing 1500 yards. He may pass 100 yards in a few games, but he is no longer going to average almost 100 yards per game in 2021.
However, we know that thanks to his 2020 performance, when the Chiefs need him, he is going to be right there to put the team on his back.