Fantasy Football: Will Travis Kelce Live Up to the Hype?

Will Kelce outperform his draft cost, or should you avoid him this season?

Since Andy Reid’s arrival in Kansas City, the Chiefs have finished second in the AFC West in each of the past three seasons, making the playoffs in two of those season with 11-5 records. The Chiefs can be described as reliable, consistent, unexciting, but very competitive under Reid. No Chief fan can complain about the results Reid has gotten out of his team.

One question in the fantasy community, Chiefs’ fans, and NFL watchers have wondered is about the usage of the uber-talented tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce has seen his stock soar in fantasy drafts, but without becoming more of a focal point of the offense, is it possible for him to fulfill those lofty draft goals?

At times Kelce has been dubbed “Baby Gronk” as a reference to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski based on his all-around skills, athleticism, and playmaking ability. Division rival linebacker Von Miller of the Denver Broncos called Kelce “Fake Gronk” after a Broncos’ win last September.

After two solid, almost identical statistic seasons, now is the time for Kelce to prove he belongs in the conversation of the upper-echelon of NFL tight ends.

It’s All About the Offense

Quarterback Alex Smith is more of a game manager than a gunslinger for Kansas City. Smith’s 3,486 passing yards and 20 passing touchdowns last season, landed him 20th at the quarterback position in both statistical categories. Smith can be described as the model of efficiency for a quarterback, throwing just 7 interceptions in 515 pass attempts last year. He has made a career of taking what the defense gives him and not locking into a specific receiver.

In terms of Net Expected Points (NEP), Smith is pretty unexciting as a passer. Out of 25 quarterbacks with at least 400 drop backs last season, Smith’s Passing NEP per drop back of 0.08 placed 17th.

With an average of just over 200 passing yards a game last season, there aren’t a ton of receiving yards for pass catchers to work with in Kansas City any given Sunday.

Kelce was the number-two option on the Chiefs last season behind wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Maclin led the team in targets with 124 to Kelce’s 103. Aside from Maclin, there isn’t much competition among pass catchers as wide receivers Albert Wilson and Chris Conley will also vie for targets in the offense.

Average Draft Position

With fantasy drafts starting in just a couple of weeks, average draft positions are beginning to fall into place. Based on current ESPN Live Draft Results, Kelce is the 5th tight end off the board and 65th player taken overall. In a 12-team league, this would put Kelce’s draft price in about the middle of Round 5.

Going back to our key metric at numberFire, Kelce’s Reception NEP per target of 0.59, placed him number 12 out of 24 tight ends with at least 70 targets last season. For Kelce to make a significant leap this season, his Reception NEP per target needs to improve.

It’s hard to debate the four tight ends currently going ahead of him, although the case could be made. Gronkowski is far and away the top choice, followed by Washington’s Jordan Reed, Carolina’s Greg Olsen, and Tennessee’s Delanie Walker.

For context, Gronkowski (0.88), Reed (0.73), Olsen (0.75), and Walker (0.70) all outpaced Kelce via Reception NEP per target.

Overall, ADP is where the questions begin to arise. Fantasy owners will have to debate spending one of their first five or six picks on a tight end at a fairly deep -- even if unspectacular -- position. The depth at the tight end position could lead owners to look to add another wide receiver like Miami’s DeVante Parker, or a worthy running back like Washington’s Matt Jones or Miami’s Arian Foster -- all players being drafted within a few picks of Kelce.

Tight End Depth

Last season, 13 tight ends finished with over 600 yards, and 14 tight ends finished with 5 touchdown or more. Again, these are not spectacular totals, but the depth at the position is there if a fantasy owner wants to wait on the position for other needs.

Based on total fantasy points in standard scoring leagues, Kelce finished eighth overall at the position. To make the leap into the top five, he would have needed to average about two more fantasy points per game last season. A two-point-per-game increase may not sound like much, but that's an extra 20 yards per game.

Draft-Day Value

As far as tight ends go, Kelce is likely being valued appropriately. He has great upside despite being tied to somewhat limited quarterbacking.

The question fantasy owners will have to figure out before draft day is whether to spend a high draft pick on a tight end at a relatively open and deep position. Kelce is safe with difference-making appeal, but if you think he has already reached his fantasy ceiling, you're better off taking another running back or wide receiver and targeting a tight end later in your draft.