TE Fantasy Bust: Travis Kelce

Travis Kelce stood atop the fantasy TE world from 2016 to 2020 – an incredible run in the age of Rob Gronkowski, George Kittle, and other elite/near-elite talents. Despite enjoying his third-best fantasy output last year, Mark Andrews became the new No. 1 with a hotter stretch run.

So naturally, most experts and managers aren’t at all concerned about Kelce’s 2022 prospects. He’s still elite, right? Patrick Mahomes is still his quarterback. And with Tyreek Hill now in Miami, presumably, Kelce can continue to shine. And hey, the all-world TE was the Chiefs’ No. 1 target each season from 2016 to 2020. Before Hill outdid him in 2021, the last Kansas City receiver to earn more looks than Kelce in a season was Jeremy Maclin (yes, Maclin) six years ago.

This is important because Kelce’s extraordinary dominance has come with the usual tiny caveat: he’s his team’s offensive focal point. So yes, he’ll continue to dominate – or come close to it – as long as he remains a target monster. Last year’s 8.4 looks per game were his lowest mark since 2017. Nothing too concerning. Maybe just a blip. But he also had 10 drops – his highest count on record in that same time frame. Mahomes averaged a 101.1 QB rating when targeting Kelce – also the lowest such recorded mark between these two.

Furthermore, Kelce will turn 33 in October. Those who observed him last season saw someone who appeared to be peaking, if not post-peak. This lines up with my research, which shows that since 2015, preseason top-six-ADP TEs who are 27 or older perform, on average, much worse than younger TEs. Kelce – and to some extent Gronkowski – have been outliers. But how long can it last?

Will Travis Kelce finish outside the top three tight ends?
Jan 30, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) reacts after a play against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Along these lines, we’ve observed several TEs with Kelce’s mileage break down around this time. Greg Olsen (age-32 season) had a preseason TE3 ADP in 2017 but missed nine games. That same year, the 30-year-old Martellus Bennett (TE10 ADP) missed seven games. In 2018, two of the three preseason top-10 TEs in their 30s (Olsen and Delanie Walker) missed seven and 15 games, respectively. Preseason TE4 Zach Ertz missed five contests in his age-30 campaign (2020), while Logan Thomas missed 11 contests in his age-30 season last year.

Kelce has been one of the exceptions. Not the only exception, but the most notable one. He has avoided the bodily breakdowns that impact so many other aging tight ends.

But betting on a soon-to-be 33-year-old reliant on an elite target share to be the overall TE1 is, to say the least, risky. While the Chiefs lost Hill, Byron Pringle, and Demarcus Robinson, they added WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marques Valdes-Scantling, high-upside rookie Skyy Moore, and intriguing UDFA Justyn Ross. Mecole Hardman remains.

This has the makings of a more spread-it-around offense, and given how steeply Kelce’s production dropped last year (aside from his miracle fourth quarter and overtime in Week 15 vs. the Chargers), that approach could serve Kansas City well. They’ll need a relatively rested Kelce in January – not someone with an eighth straight 870-plus-snap season (and a roughly 90% snap share).

Most of the fantasy universe disagrees. 81 of 104 experts compiled by Fantasy Pros (78%) rank him as the No. 1 fantasy TE. 100% of experts place him in the top three. Yes, 100%. But our contrarian research thinks differently. Kelce is a better bet to finish outside the top three, posting his lowest fantasy production since 2016, if not earlier.

Travis Kelce, KC (TE1 ADP)
Contrarian Prediction: Not a top-four TE and worst per-game fantasy production since pre-2017.

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