Before discussing Travis Kelce, let’s agree there are hundreds of different strategies out there when it comes to fantasy football. Some seasons they work, some they don’t. Their success or failure is generally not at all related to the strategy itself, but rather the execution of it.
For instance, there are many die-hard experts who argue that you can wait on a quarterback until round 12. If the year is 2016 and you happen to draft Dak Prescott that expert ends up looking like a genius, right? But what if you follow that same strategy, the year is 2017 and you drafted Andy Dalton? That expert probably isn’t looking so smart anymore. However, if you drafted Carson Wentz…. boom! They’re a genius again. See, this approach works with any so-called “fool-proof” fantasy football strategy you’ll read about.
You may be wondering what this has to do with Travis Kelce, right? Maybe this is just amateur hour and I happened to post the wrong article with the title or vice versa; it’s a reasonable assumption so far and considering you don’t know me at all, you’d be well within your rights to say this guy’s crazy.
Forget all those trendy running back theories, do yourself a favor and grab a top tier tight end… May I recommend to you Travis Kelce perhaps? Or Rob Gronkowski?
I have my own strategy for fantasy football glory. I do my best to follow it every, single year and truthfully it has a very strong success rate. But like the example shown above, it’s not so much that my strategy is fool-proof, I’ve just been lucky in the successful execution of it from year to year. This is where Travis Kelce comes into play. I firmly believe that having a top tier tight end gives you such a drastic advantage on a week-to-week basis that it can solidly make up for many other lineup weaknesses that you may be trotting out.
I’m not just talking about a TE1 (usually designated as any tight end that finishes inside the Top 12). I’m talking about a Top 3 tight end. We’re talking Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and… Hmmm, let me think here… Gronk, Kelce and… Some of you may be screaming “Ummm… Zach Ertz!” and this is only strengthening your view that I’m crazy. But was Ertz really head and shoulders above the rest of the tight ends in the 1-12 range last year?
Ertz finished as the third best tight end with 165 points last year in .5 PPR leagues. Tight end #8, Jack Doyle finished with 129, which amounts to only a 36 point difference. When you take that over a 16 game season like many of us play, it only amounts to a 2.25 weekly point difference.
That’s definitely good, but it’s not the distinct advantage we’re looking for if we’re going to implement my strategy of having a top tier tight end because in all honesty, there’s only two of them… Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce.
The Top Two: Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce
They both scored 192 points in a .5 PPR league. That’s enough to give you a four point advantage over Jack Doyle (TE8). When we look at the advantage Gronk and Kelce had on TE12, Eric Ebron, we’re getting close to an extra 5.5 points every week against someone who finished as a TE1 (again, any tight end who finishes inside the Top 12). Now this, this is the advantage about which I’m talking.
And that’s just based on their weekly averages. Tight ends outside of Gronk and Kelce are so hit or miss. If you roster one of them there’s a fairly good chance of playing against a TE1 who scores less than five points on the week you’re playing them. Eric Ebron (TE12) had seven games where he scored less than five points. Cameron Brate (TE9) also had seven games where he scored less than five points. Delanie Walker (TE6) had five games with less than five points.
Gronkowski had one such game. Kelce also had one such game. The fact is Gronk and Kelce not only greatly outscore their tight end competition, but they’re much more consistent while doing it. This means there’s a pretty good chance, close to a 50% chance that you’re non-owning Gronk and Kelce competition will start a tight end that scores less than five points on the week you’re lining up to play with them. Since Gronk and Kelce rarely ever do this, that 4-5.5 point advantage could balloon to even more on a weekly basis just because of Gronk and Kelce’s awesomeness and the wasteland that is fantasy football tight ends.
If you’re with me so far, you’re intrigued and rightfully so. The tight end position is the most volatile position in fantasy football. If you have the very best the position has to offer you’ve just acquired a lethal and potential championship winning piece to your roster. Sign me up, right? Unfortunately, there’s a downside. Only one tight end that fits this criteria for 2018 and it’s not the one with a reality television show. Although come on, Rob Gronkowski should totally have his own reality television show; I’d totally watch that.
This isn’t to say that Travis Kelce is going to be bad in 2018. In fact I believe he’ll be quite good again. He just won’t provide that distinct weekly advantage over his other TE1 peers. It’s not his fault though. Of course this will be of little solace to any owners who mistakenly draft Travis Kelce too high. Kelce still has a ton of value; he’s going to be a Top 5 tight end again in 2018. The key will be where you have to draft Kelce to get that value. I’m here to tell you that he’s going to go much too early in fantasy football drafts. And while the owner won’t be outright disappointed in their selection because Kelce will still be very good, they’ll probably want that pick back. Don’t let that be you.
Concern #1: Don’t believe the Patrick Mahomes hype; he won’t be as good as Alex Smith was in 2017.
Now for the most important part, the why. Here’s where we get down to the meat of fantasy football, the numbers and what they tell us. Last year in 2017 Kelce had 1,038 yards and 8 touchdowns. Alex Smith had had 4,042 yards passing and 26 touchdowns. This means that Kelce accounted for just under 26% of the Chief’s passing yards and just under 31% of it’s passing touchdowns. Alex Smith, who received MVP votes in 2017 for his outstanding play is no longer in Kansas City. Patrick Mahomes, essentially a rookie will be replacing the Chiefs’ starting quarterback in 2017.
There’s obviously going to be a decrease in Mahomes stats compared to Smith’s 2017 season unless you expect Mahomes to come in and play like an MVP-caliber quarterback; I do not. So the next part is simple; we need to project what Patrick Mahomes 2018 stats will look like. After looking back through Andy Reid’s career coaching we find a similar quarterback to Mahomes and that’s Donovan McNabb from his days in Philadelphia.
Is Mahomes better than McNabb?
McNabb spent the majority of his rookie season on the sideline after being drafted high in the 1999 NFL Draft. Sound familiar? It should because it’s pretty much the same thing that happened with Patrick Mahomes. In 2000, Donovan McNabb became the full-time starter and threw for 3,365 yards and 21 touchdowns in an Andy Reid offense. Donovan McNabb, while not a Hall of Fame quarterback in my opinion, is at least receiving some attention in that regard so he’s a lofty player we’re projecting Mahomes’ stats to match.
Let’s project Mahomes touchdown total to be exactly the same to that of Donovan McNabb’s in 1999. Actually let’s give Mahomes 3,500 yards just because the league is more pass happy. Let’s also project for Kelce’s averages in 2017 to carry over to 2018. Of course, neither of these projections will be 100% accurate, but it should give us an accurate baseline on what to expect from Kelce and Mahomes in 2018.
If Kelce finishes with 26% of Mahomes’ 3,500 passing yards, he’ll finish with 910 yards. If Kelce finishes with 31% of Mahomes’ 21 touchdowns, he’ll finish with 6.5 touchdowns. Kelce’s career yards per reception is 12.7, so Kelce should finish with around 72 receptions. If you’re playing in a .5 PPR league this all amounts to 166 points or the exact same number Zach Ertz finished with in 2017. If Gronk has 192 points in 2018, he’ll average more than 1.5 points per week than Travis Kelce.
166 points still easily projects as Top 3 tight end in 2018. It’s just that 166 points is no where near Gronk’s tier. Currently he’s being drafted only a few spots behind Gronk. Travis Kelce still demands to be drafted in the first four rounds for sure, but if you’re drafting him in round two you’re probably reaching too much for a player who may be affected by his quarterback’s play and other factors that he cannot control. 166 points is still a very good tight end, but it’s not the kind of difference maker we’re looking for in our top tier tight end strategy. It shouldn’t be what we’re looking for in the second round either.
Concern #2: There’s more competition in the receiver room in Kansas City and that isn’t a good thing for Travis Kelce’s fantasy prospects.
The other aspect of Travis Kelce’s 2018 fantasy football projection is based around one of the biggest off-season signings this past season, Sammy Watkins. It’s no mystery that Watkins has been a disappointment thus far in his career. It’s no mystery that he has the skills and look of a #1 wide receiver in the right system. Andy Reid has proven over the course of his coaching career that he is very, very good.
Watkins is easily in the best system that he has played in his entire NFL career. The Bills with Tyrod Taylor and Rex Ryan would have been an awful situation for any young receiver. The Rams traded for Sammy Watkins late in the off-season and he never really got a chance to gel with his new teammates or completely immerse himself in McVay’s offense. The Rams also didn’t pay Watkins $16 million a year like the Chiefs did just to have him run go-routes to open the field.
We’ve already heard reports that Reid has Watkins expanding his route tree and lining up all over the field. They don’t need Watkins to solely run go-routes like the Rams did because they also have Tyreek Hill. Andy Reid and the Chiefs have a plan on how they are going to use Watkins. It will undoubtedly involve some less targets for both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
In 2017 Alex Smith looked for Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce and if one of them weren’t open he often dumped it down to Kareem Hunt. There were no other passing options in Kansas City. There is now and he cost the Chiefs’ $48 million dollars to acquire. They did not spend that much money without a very specific plan on how they are going to use him.
Concern #3: Kelce is no longer the only option in the red zone for the Chiefs’ passing offense.
Another thing to remember that despite Watkins’ struggles with the Rams, he did prove to be a very solid red zone target for Jared Goff. He finished with the most touchdowns (8) of his young career. Tyreek Hill is not a red zone threat whatsoever. That means if Smith looked to pass inside the 20 yard line chances were very, very high he was looking at Travis Kelce first, second and third. Part of that was because Kelce is an amazing football player, but another part of that was the fact that the Chiefs’ simply did not have another option in the red zone. They do now and that could also negatively affect Kelce’s touchdown numbers.
Concern #4: More turnovers = Less opportunities for Kelce to rack up fantasy points.
Another number that could drastically impact Kelce’s touchdown numbers, five. Five is the total number of interceptions Alex Smith threw last season. Five. As a rookie in 1998 Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions. In 2000 when Donovan McNabb took over for the Andy Reid coached Eagles, he threw 13 interceptions. When Aaron Rodgers got his first chance to start in 2008 he threw 13 interceptions. Mind you, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in NFL history in not throwing interceptions. In his lone start in week 17 last year, Mahomes threw zero touchdowns to one interception. Needless to say, you can count on Patrick Mahomes throwing more interceptions than the five Smith threw last year.
It’s reasonable to expect Mahomes to throw anywhere between 13 and 18 interceptions in 2018. On the low end at 13, that’s one less drive in half of all of their games that the Chiefs and more importantly, Kelce has to accumulate fantasy stats. On the high end at 18, that’s one less drive that Kelce has in almost every game in 2018. That’s kind of a big deal because you can’t score unless you have the ball.
What does all this mean for Travis Kelce in 2018?
When you consider the inevitable decline in quarterback play, the addition of Sammy Watkins and the overall increase in offensive turnovers, there are a lot of factors that are working against Travis Kelce’s fantasy projections in 2018. None of them are his fault. If just one of these factors were present, no big deal; Kelce’s that good. Is he good enough to overcome all three of these negative factors to still maintain his side-by-side status next to Gronk? I am not so sure. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make in a fantasy football draft is drafting a player based on his ceiling. Drafting Travis Kelce in round two is doing exactly that.
Despite my obsession with the very best tight ends that fantasy football has to offer, Kelce likely won’t be on any of my teams. The draft capitol it’ll cost me to acquire him is too high. He’s going to be closer to Zach Ertz in 2018 then he will be to Gronk. I’d be comfortable taking Kelce late in the third round. One of my draft mates will surely have grabbed him already, making the mistake and drafting Kelce on what he did in 2017 and not what he will likely do in 2018. Don’t let that be you.
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