Is TE Travis Kelce worth drafting very early?

Where should you draft TE Travis Kelce?

By: Brady Akins

High.

You should draft Travis Kelce very, very, extremely high in your fantasy football draft.

In journalism school, they teach you not to bury your lede, and get the crux of your writing out into the open early. The rest of this piece will be a full-blown, unfiltered love fest on the fantasy value of the Kansas City Chiefs’ superstar tight end, and I didn’t want to make you sit through all of it expecting a plot twist at the end.

How high is high? Well, for a player as skilled as Kelce, for someone as consistent a fantasy scorer as he is, for someone who is so clearly ahead of the rest of the people at his position, it would be wise to ignore conventional draft wisdom. Those who came before us have warned against drafting a tight end in the first round, but those who came before us have never witnessed a player on the level of Travis Kelce– a first-round fantasy football talent.

The Risks of Taking a Tight End in the First Round

Why shouldn’t you take a tight end in the first round? Well, the reasons are fairly self-explanatory. 

Historically speaking, tight end simply is not a very valuable position on a fantasy football roster. Similar to kickers, most tight ends can be classified in the same tier. Most of them score around the same point range, and when they do score, they’re not often scoring a lot.

True, tight ends are pass catchers– but the elite tight ends simply usually don’t receive the same target share. In fact, out of the 24 highest volume pass-catchers in the 2020 season, 22 of them were wide receivers. Similarly, there were only two tight ends in the top 24 for catches receptions last season, as many as there were running backs, and only two tight ends in the top 50 of receiving yards– with 47 of those players being wide receivers.

Tight ends aren’t going to be running the ball often, so the near entirety of their fantasy production comes from the passing game– where they’re often nonfactors relative to wide receivers. So even the elite tight ends of the modern NFL often fall to the third, fourth, even fifth round in smaller leagues. 

But wait, there’s more! Because only three tight ends in 2020 averaged more than 15.6 points per game– the average of the third-ranked tight end in PPG, George Kittle. 15 wide receivers were able to beat that mark, and 40 were able to outscore the fourth-ranked tight end in points per game.

The reality of the matter is simple, tight ends just don’t produce on an elite level in fantasy football.

Well, most don’t, anyway.

The Rewards of Taking Travis Kelce in the First Round

Travis Kelce is not the average tight end. He’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body.

Kelce, as you’ve probably figured out by now, is at the top of most the metrics tight ends fail in. And his numbers aren’t just better than the rest of his tight-end counterparts, but they’re better than most receivers as well.

Let’s reverse the game we just played. Travis Kelce was able to manage 20.9 fantasy points per game while playing in 15 games. That per-game production was better than all but two wide receivers in 2020. To take it a step further, Kelce’s per-game production was better than all but four running backs as well. One of those ball carriers was the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey, who played in just three games in 2020. Another was Buffalo’s Antonio Williams, who played in one game last season.

Among skill position players who were regular starters for their teams last season, Kelce was fifth in points per game in ESPN standard leagues, also, incredibly, ahead of all but 10 quarterbacks in overall points with 312.7. Again, missing one game as well.

Kelce’s fantasy numbers were up there with the biggest names in the sport, and unlike a position like a quarterback, his 2020 production was far and away better than anyone else’s at his position. The second-best scoring tight end was Las Vegas’ Darren Waller, who managed 17.4 points per game. That 3.5 point difference between Kelce and Waller was bigger than the gap between first and second place at all positions other than wide receiver.

So not only was Kelce’s production better than most skill position players, but it was far and away from the best at his position. Making Kelce not only a valuable tight-end asset but an ultra-valuable asset regardless of position.

Can Kelce do it again?

Yes. Why not?

While 2020 was the best Kelce has ever played, or the best any tight end has ever played with the Chiefs’ star breaking the record for receiving yards in a season for a tight end with 1,416 (again, he missed a game too!), it doesn’t mean he can’t do it again. Or at least do something similar. 

Kelce hasn’t had a season with less than 1,000 yards since 2015, or less than 1,200 yards since 2017. Since Mahomes has arrived to Kansas City and has taken over for the Chiefs’ offense, the tight end has been the epitome of both consistency and dominance. 

With 105 catches in 2020, 97 the year before, and 103 the year before that, Kelce has been given the chance to produce big numbers with big volume. Even at the age of 31, with how he’s been playing, there’s no reason to believe that Travis Kelce can’t produce at this high a level for the fourth year in a row.

He’s worth the first-round pick, whether you like it or not.

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