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Kansas City Chiefs roster analysis: Anthony Fasano's future leads tight end questions

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

[Editor's note: We continue on with our Chiefs offseason roster analysis from Dirk Scholl, Aaron Hansberry, and Joe Edwards of Football Futures. Many thanks to them for allowing us to post their analysis here. Check out the previous positions here.]

The tight ends

TE - Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris 

Other players: Brandon Barden, Adam Schiltz

Free agents: Richard Gordon

A general look at the unit

Due to a mix of injuries, youth, and an overall lack of quality at the WR position, the TE corps saw a substantial increase in snaps, targets, and responsibility in the passing game. Some of the offense's best games featured an expanded use of three TE sets, and the offense as a whole arguably used two TE sets as the base offense. The group was highlighted by the phenomenal breakout of Travis Kelce, who quickly became the best threat the team has had at the position since the great Tony Gonzalez.

The guys under contract

Travis Kelce made a name for himself quickly and frequently this season. With phenomenal speed, a Gronk-esque knack for making plays after the catch, and reliable hands, he was simultaneously the team's most dependable and dangerous receiving threat this season. Second in the league in yards per route run to the aforementioned Gronk, arguably the only thing that held him back was his inconsistent snap count. Even late in the season, after his breakout, it was not uncommon for him to miss 15 snaps or so in a game. Conventional logic would suggest he was pulled for Fasano due to the veteran's blocking abilities, but we would argue that Kelce matched, if not outperformed Fasano, in that respect as well. Either way, Kelce is a budding star in this league. He does have one major flaw to work on, however. While it is safe to call him a reliable receiver, with only four drops on the year, the fact that he matched that with four fumbles as well is simply unacceptable. A RB with four fumbles on 300 touches is understandable, but for a TE to do that on 67 catches can kill an offense.

Anthony Fasano is the perfect cliché of a reliable veteran at TE. A generally reliable blocker with good hands and underwhelming athleticism, he remains an asset to this team.

Anthony Fasano is the perfect cliché of a reliable veteran at TE. A generally reliable blocker with good hands and underwhelming athleticism, he remains an asset to this team. 2014 was not his best year, particularly as a blocker, but the team asked much of him at times, as he tried to aid Fisher and Ryan Harris with pass rushers you just don't want your TE blocking. The question moving forward, is if that reliable but unspectacular performance warrants the $4.225M he's slated to earn in 2015. We're skeptical, to say the least.

Demetrius Harris was a pretty big deal coming out of training camp in 2014. Tall, athletic, and a former basketball player, he's everything you look for in a developmental project at TE. Surprisingly, his best play during the regular season actually came as a blocker in those three TE formations against Miami and New England. An injury ending his season was certainly disappointing, but Harris remains a talented player that the team likes moving forward.

Brandon Barden and Adam Schiltz are a duo of practice squad TEs that bounced around the AFC South prior to catching on here. With no playing time from either, as is usually the case with practice squad members, there is not much for us to say of either player.

The free agent

Richard Gordon was a late re-addition to the roster. After being cut by the team once already prior to the season, he repeated his short stint with the Chiefs from last year. And just as he did back then he again saw minimal snaps and no catches. He seems to be an emergency favorite of the Chiefs' brass. That said, unless Fasano is cut and no replacement is signed or drafted, we don't anticipate him making the initial roster in 2015. But we would not be surprised to see him re-surface if / when injury strikes.

Cap considerations

Fasano is really the only player worth mentioning here. Kelce remains on his rookie deal, and an extension can't be negotiated for at least another year. Every other TE on the roster is making chump change.

Fasano's future may ultimately come down to the team's cap situation.

Fasano's future may ultimately come down to the team's cap situation and the role foreseen for the TE corps next season. If keeping Fasano on does not jeopardize negotiations with higher priority players like Rodney Hudson, Justin Houston, or even Ron Parker, then there is little reason to make a move, even if he may be considered overpaid for his (assumed) role as a No. 2 TE. But if (beyond mere cap considerations) the brass considers shifting the receiving workload more to the WRs, possibly keeping Dwayne Bowe and / or adding a veteran presence there, then it is unlikely Fasano will stay.

The play of Kelce, the possibility to still expand his role and the multitude of draft picks provide the team with the necessary flexibility to consider Fasano for cap relief. Nevertheless, he is still a useful, veteran presence on the team, so there is no guarantee of a departure.

Overall assessment

This was one of the two offensive position groups that we could really be satisfied with this past season, and it is a group that should be trending upwards. Kelce showed genuine star talent, and needs only some polish to become a truly elite force at the position. Provided he recovers well, Harris should be able to re-earn his role as No. 3 TE at least, if not progress towards a bit more responsibility.

The only real wildcard is Fasano. Should he remain, we'll undoubtedly see a repeat of last year's trio, with the only change being Kelce leapfrogging Fasano on the depth chart. Should the team cut him, however, we expect the Chiefs to try to patch that hole via the draft rather than free agency. If the coaching staff believes Harris is ready for a 400-500 snap role as a No. 2 TE, a low round pick, an UDFA, one of the practice squad guys, or a guy like Richard Gordon should suffice as the third man. If Harris is not ready and Fasano is released, a mid-round pick would not be out of the question, especially considering that Fasano's contract expires next year anyway. Due to the lack of appropriate free agents we don't see another (cheaper) player replacing Fasano as the No. 2 TE. Ultimately, we think Fasano is gone out of necessity, and Harris stays at the less demanding role of No. 3 TE while he develops, so we anticipate a new, young, face in the trio.

Coaching

Tom Melvin is far from a big name as the team's TE coach, but he has been a mainstay in Reid's coaching staff for over a decade now, and has consistently gotten solid play out of middling talent over the years. He seems to have made quick work of turning an athlete, in Kelce, into a well-rounded football player. One of the better coaches on this staff that most of us have probably never heard of.

2015 TIGHT END PROJECTION

TE - Kelce, mid-round pick, Harris / practice squad / UDFA