Like the worst of problems, the Kansas City Chiefs issues at tight end completely caught me by surprise. One moment, I'm touting it as one of the most dependable facets of the Chiefs roster. The next, I'm blindsided by the unexpected concerns the Chiefs now face in an already limited offense.
Tight end was expected to be a strength for the Chiefs offense. After the team brought in quarterback Alex Smith to serve at the helm of Andy Reid's offensive schemes, the tight ends trio of Anthony Fasano, Tony Moeaki and rookie Travis Kelce were supposed to supplement a lackluster wide receiving corps and keep defenses from stacking the box on running back Jamaal Charles.
I wasn't the only one who thought so. It wasn't that long ago that AP columnist Matt Verderame wrote, "Overall, this position should be one of versatility and strength for the Chiefs." AP's beloved editor Joel Thorman wrote in July, "The KC Chiefs tight ends are better in 2013 than they were in 2012 -- without question." An astounding 98 percent of readers in a poll in Thorman's column agreed that the Chiefs tight end position was stronger than the previous season.
So what happened? How did the Chiefs, in a matter of weeks, move from position of strength to troubled spot at tight end?
The first and easiest answer is Tony Moeaki, who came into the league as a talented but injury-prone tight end out of Iowa. The scouting reports could not have been more accurate. Moeaki started 15 games his rookie season, missed the entire sophomore year and started another 14 just last year. Then suddenly a fractured shoulder in the preseason became the last straw for the team's new leadership. Moeaki was released.
Sean McGrath out of Seattle was claimed after Moeaki's release.
With the loss of Moeaki, the Chiefs lost a well-rounded tight end on the roster and the best receiving option for Smith. While Anthony Fasano is a solid veteran, Moeaki was the one with the most promise to become a target teams must plan for. Without Moeaki, the Chiefs moved from a full roster with multiple options to one steady 29-year-old and an unproven rookie.
When it comes to Fasano, the good news is that the former Dolphin is a reliable veteran. He's missed four games in the last five seasons, so the Chiefs can feel good about at least one dependable performer at the position. The downside is that Fasano is not going to put up huge stats. He's averaged 35 catches per year during that stretch, which would mean you could count on him for just over two catches each game. That's not exactly a major boost to the Chiefs passing game.
Luckily, that's where Travis Kelce comes in. John Dorsey drafted Kelce out of Cincinnati in the third round of this year's NFL Draft, and Kelce provides the sort of promising stock Moeaki once had. At 6'6, 260 pounds, Kelce has great size and athleticism for the position. He also became a dynamic end zone target for Cincy last year, and ended the season with eight touchdowns and a nice 16.0 yards per catch.
While Kelce is still rough around the edges as a rookie in his first NFL preseason, and coming off a knee injury which plauged him in two separate weeks, the ceiling is exactly what the Chiefs need on offense. NFL.com's Josh Norris had Kelce as his No. 2 overall tight end prospect after Tyler Eifert, a first round selection and Norris wrote, "Kelce has everything you want on the field." CBS Sports Dane Brugler compares him to Brandon Pettigrew, while SB Nation's Dan Kadar believes he's a "stronger version of Dennis Pitta of the Ravens." Considering Pettigrew averaged 71 catches the last three years for the Lions, and Pitta had 61 catches from Joe Flacco, those are nice comparisons for the Chiefs tight end.
Unfortunately, those players also took time to develop, which is likely what Kelce will need for the bulk of 2013. That leaves Fasano as the lone proven commodity for the Chiefs offense at tight end. Taken together, this begins to be worrisome for the Chiefs offense.
It was a year ago that the only skill position players who would even concern an opposing team were Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles. While the Chiefs have their fingers crossed on other options, it seems these are, once again, the only points of impact one year later. It helps to have Reid overseeing the operation and Smith throwing the ball, but the Chiefs' tight end position definitely went from one of the biggest strengths to one of the biggest question marks in a short period of time.