Healthy Kelce could be answer for Chiefs at tight end next season

01/16/2014 5:59 PM

02/01/2014 4:34 PM

It’s no secret that Chiefs coach Andy Reid loves to use tight ends.

So when the Chiefs invested a third-round pick last year on Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce, it stood to reason Reid would waste no time putting the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Kelce to work just like Brent Celek, L.J. Smith and Chad Lewis during Reid’s 14-year tenure in Philadelphia.

Injuries, however, prevented the Chiefs from cashing in on that investment. Kelce caught two passes for 28 yards in the preseason before a bone bruise in his knee sidelined him for a significant portion of camp. He appeared briefly in one regular-season game but was put on injured reserve after a micro-fracture procedure.

Without him, the Chiefs received a little less production from the position than Reid is used to. In his previous four years in Philadelphia, Reid’s tight ends combined to catch an average of 72 passes for 855 yards. The Chiefs’ tight ends this year, led by veteran Anthony Fasano and second-year pro Sean McGrath, caught 54 passes for only 537 yards.

ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, who worked with Reid in Philadelphia as the Eagles’ director of pro personnel, said Fasano and McGrath were solid but unspectacular. Fasano, who missed seven games because of injuries, posted a Pro Football Focus grade of negative-2.3, which ranked 37th out of the 64 tight ends who played 25 percent or more of his team’s snaps, while McGrath ranked 30th.

“They’re good, and let’s just say that they are, in the scouting terminology, adequate,” Riddick said. “They’re adequate as far as Fasano being a starter, adequate as far as McGrath being a No. 2 and really, a No. 3 type of guy.”

In other words, the Chiefs could still use another playmaker, and NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock thinks Kelce, who caught 45 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns at Cincinnati and the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds at his pro day, might be the man for the job.

“I think he’s really an important component next year,” Mayock said. “Fasano is solid, Sean McGrath had a sneaky good year. But in today’s NFL, to have a tight end that can challenge the safeties down the seam and push it vertically, it opens up a lot of other things in your offense, and I think Kelce’s that kind of guy.”

He might have to be, said Riddick, who says the Chiefs have plenty of priorities at other positions and may not be able to devote the resources necessary to make a major upgrade at tight end.

“I think they’ll probably look for an inside threat and an outside threat and live with the tight ends they have unless they have a chance to get a good one that doesn’t cause them to have to extend themselves either with a high draft pick or any kind of ridiculous money in free agency,” Riddick said. “They’ve already invested what they need to invest at that position.”

McGrath seems like a good bet to return, given his miniscule 2014 cap number of $495,000. While National Football Post salary cap expert Joel Corry says the Chiefs could save a little money by cutting the 30-year-old Fasano, who carries a cap number of roughly $4.4 million, Fasano’s track record suggests he might be better next season if he sheds the nagging injuries that limited him this year.

If the Chiefs don’t add another player, they still have gifted-but-raw rookie Demetrius Harris, a 6-7, 230-pound former basketball player who spent most of the year on the practice squad. And, of course, they also have Kelce, who needs to refine his blocking but clearly has the confidence of the front office, provided he can come back 100 percent from his knee troubles.

“It’s a very tight-end friendly offense,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said. “He had demonstrated that he had all the attributes and skills in training camp that you asked for in a player at that position.

“All of a sudden, you start to take some hits at tight end and guys stepped up when they had to, but it would have been wonderful to have Travis back and playing. This will be a big year for him coming up. It will be good for him to move forward and it will be good for us just to show everybody why we drafted him in the third round.”

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