In the era of increased passing in the NFL, wide receivers and athletic tight ends have become just as valued as go-to bell-cow running backs. Players like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have redefined the position and, in a replicate league, once something succeeds, other teams will invariably try to copy it.
Every team is seemingly looking for the downfield tight end threat and the Kansas City Chiefs have one in Travis Kelce, a third-round draft pick in 2013 who has quickly emerged as an elite tight end receiving threat. As the Chiefs try to survive the loss of offensive centerpiece Jamaal Charles, the attention that Kelce is going to receive from the Vikings defense makes Minnesota’s attempt to contain him this week’s key matchup.
“He’s a very good player who makes big plays,” Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “They use him in so many different ways that he has to be a concern for everybody – the corners, the safeties, the linebackers, all of us.”
Last season, Kelce emerged, leading the Chiefs in receptions (67), receiving yards (862) and touchdowns (5). At a time when he was receiving an inordinate amount of defensive attention because of the lack of production from the Kansas City wide receivers, Kelce still found a way to thrive and make big plays. In 10 games last year, he had at least one catch of 20 or more yards.
Nothing has changed this season. Kelce has caught 24 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns. He has 80 or more yards in two of three road games and leads the team in yards per reception at 13.7.
“There’s no question that he does a lot for their offense,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “Personally, I think he’s the best offensive player they have other than Jamaal Charles.”
What makes Kelce so dangerous to a defense is that, from one snap to the next, you never know where he will be. He will line up in-line. He will line up in the slot. He will line up wide. He will be put in motion. He is a player who can create mismatches – too fast for a lot of linebackers to keep up with and too big for a lot of safeties to cover man-on-man.
It is those attributes that make him a weapon and one that quarterback Alex Smith has leaned heavily upon, especially on third downs when a drive needs to be kept alive.
As a result of his versatility, he is a problem for any defense because he does so many different things that make him a dangerous weapon that can expose defensive weaknesses.
“When you watch him on tape, you see how many different ways they use him,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “He crosses the field, he can go deep, he gets yards after the catch and they move him around a lot. You have to account for him on every play because he has the ability to make plays anywhere on the field.”
The Vikings have a plan in place to try to shut down the Chiefs offense Sunday. That scheme got a little easier for Minnesota with the loss of Charles, the unquestioned No. 1 weapon in Kansas City’s offense, but the result of that may be more attention being paid to find ways to get Kelce in space on the Vikings side of the ball. In turn, that will ratchet up the Vikings’ need to make sure he doesn’t do too much damage, making their coverage assignments on Kelce this week’s matchup to watch.