Travis Kelce Is the Late-Round Tight End You Need in Fantasy Football This Year

Travis Kelce's measurables stack up well among tight ends since 2000, and there's plenty of upside for him this year despite his injury concerns.

There are certain teams every year that have a wide range of expectations. One of them this year is the Kansas City Chiefs, a team ranked 13th in our power rankings with a 7.8 win projection. They have a nERD score of 1.51, which means they'd be expected to beat an average opponent by just 1.51 points.

They'll hinge on 8-8, particularly given the difficulties lurking in the AFC West, unless they can get some unexpected production from unexpected players. And a potential breakout candidate in Kansas City exists on the depth chart as a tight end.

Now, if you just commenced your fantasy football research for the season, you may not have gotten into the depths of the tight end class yet. But once you do, there are a few names that will pop up as candidates primed to break out and post big numbers - names that can be had late in your fantasy drafts or even after the fact.

One of those names you'll come across will be Travis Kelce, a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City spent a third-round pick on Kelce in the 2013 NFL Draft, but microfracture knee surgery kept him out of his rookie season. The reason Kelce is generating traction, for the most part, is his athletic ability for his size (6'5" and 255 pounds).

Kelce's measurables hold up against other high-end tight ends over the past 13 years who fit the bill, and since he doesn't have any NFL tenure, all we can examine are the numbers. But that's sort of what we do here.

Measuring Up

There have been roughly 60 tight ends since 2000 who entered the draft who were at least 6'5" and 250 pounds, and while not every one of them received an invite for the NFL Combine or had a pro day, Kelce's numbers in comparison are mostly impressive. Here are Kelce's personal numbers and ranks among the group.

Ranks40-Yd Dash20-Yd Dash10-Yd DashVertical LeapBroad Jump20-Yd Shuttle3-Cone Drill
Kelce12 of 5216 of 4412 of 4412 of 503 of 4631 of 4521 of 44

No, Kelce isn't top-five in every drill or something absurd, but he's fairly consistently inside the top third of the subsets, which is good, but not jaw-droppingly elite. That's why Kelce was a modest third-round talent, and isn't generating overwhelming buzz.

In creating a bit of an arbitrary ranking system, affixing a composite score of each player's ranks in the seven drills above, Kelce fares well overall. There were 40 tight ends who have scores in each drill, and Kelce's ranks, in total, gave him a score of 108. That's ninth-best out of 47.

For comparison, other significant player scores were a bit sparse. Jimmy Graham (2nd, 56), Coby Fleener (3rd, 59), Greg Olsen (6th, 97), Rob Gronkowski (12th, 128), and Kyle Rudolph (30th, 201).

Of course, athletic ability only goes so far, and Michael Egnew ranked first with a score of 55. But most of the statistically-significant tight ends reside inside the top-12, which is great news for Kelce's potential.

Here are the individual results for the top-12 composite tight ends.

PlayerHt.Wt.40-Y20-Y10-YVert.Broad20-Y Sh.3-Cone
Michael Egnew772524.522.591.6361314.327.03
Jimmy Graham782604.532.611.5338.51204.456.9
Coby Fleener782504.522.651.56371164.37.02
Tony Scheffler782544.542.661.6133.51154.046.82
Dan Gronkowski782554.792.651.53331224.266.92
Greg Olsen782544.512.591.5935.51144.487.04
Taylor Thompson782594.552.671.6371264.387.43
Tyler Eifert782504.682.691.6535.51194.326.92
Travis Kelce772554.642.721.61351244.427.09
Keith Heinrich782554.772.811.68351204.16.87
Tom Santi762504.82.751.65361214.277.08
Rob Gronkowski782584.682.681.5833.51194.477.18

Two players with whom Kelce compares well are Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert. That's saying a lot about Kelce's athletic potential, but there are plenty of names in the chart above that are less promising.

Still, measurables aren't everything.

Turning Talent into Production

Let's take a deeper look at the numbers that these types of tight ends posted in their rookie seasons, and I don't mean raw stats. I mean Net Expected Points (NEP), the key ingredient in all of numberFire's analysis.

Rookie YearRec.Rec. NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec. NEP per Target
Michael Egnew72.61110.300.24
Jimmy Graham3136.464421.140.83
Coby Fleener2624.13488.880.50
Tony Scheffler1825.66376.350.69
Dan Gronkowski1-0.233-4.37-0.08
Greg Olsen3932.39666.320.49
Taylor Thompson51.2512-10.040.10
Tyler Eifert3929.96604.210.50
Keith Heinrich87.9997.630.89
Tom Santi106.54134.040.50
Rob Gronkowski4256.715943.690.96

All things considered, the athleticism of these players didn't translate immediately in their rookie campaigns. Over one-third of them failed to catch double-digit passes.

To give some context to the Reception Net Expected Points metrics above, Graham led all tight ends this year with a Reception NEP of 119.71, Fleener was 15th (46.10), and Rudolph was 32nd (26.72).

So why is there reason to single out Kelce as a breakout candidate? Well, there are the physical similarities between Gronkowski and Eifert that generate excitement, but there's more to it. He's had a year with the team under his belt, which makes him less than a sophomore but more than a rookie.

And some of these athletic tight ends have had some great success during their sophomore years.

Sophomore YearRec.Rec. NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec. NEP per Target
Jimmy Graham99108.8714953.540.73
Coby Fleener5246.10876.460.53
Tony Scheffler4940.736523.870.63
Greg Olsen5442.568220.720.52
Rob Gronkowski90131.91124102.901.06

Now, spending a season on the sidelines isn't the same as a rookie season, but it's nice to see that the tight ends of similar stature and athleticism have produced big seasons as sophomores. Again, there are other players that haven't had stellar sophomore seasons, but the upside for Kelce's comparisons is apparent.

Free Upside

The thing about Kelce is that he's not being drafted in 12-team leagues, but has the athletic potential to play like some of the top-tier tight ends without any of the cost. The thing about tight ends is that they don't necessarily account for crucial point tallies on fantasy squads unless they're truly elite, and tight ends get added and dropped almost with the frequency of kickers and defenses.

If Kelce ends up playing more like a rookie than a sophomore or doesn't harness his athletic potential, then you can cut him without penalty. If he is able to take advantage of a glaring dearth of receiving options in Kansas City, then you could have this year's Julius Thomas all for the price of nothing.