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Football Outsiders: Is Travis Kelce better as a pass catcher when he’s detached from the line?

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Exploring the uniqueness of the Chiefs’ No. 1 tight end.

NFL: Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Arrowhead Pride had the opportunity to ask Football Outsiders five questions about the upcoming season. This week, we’ll talk about all five and provide our reactions.


Is Travis Kelce better as a pass catcher when he’s detached from the line?

Travis Kelce has been most consistent out of the slot over the past two seasons. In 2016 and 2017 respectively, Kelce posted a 29.5% and 25.9% DVOA rating out of the slot. Those marks ranked among the best in the league in each season. However, his production as an in-line tight end and as a true wideout have varied.

Kelce was highly successful out wide in 2016, but was not as much of a threat as an in-line tight end. The opposite was true in 2017 as Kelce became a massive producer from the in-line position and less so as a true wideout. Part of the reason for the variance among these two splits, but not his slot performance, is the sample size. Kelce saw 137 targets from the slot over the past two years, but only 63 as an in-line tight end and 36 as a wideout. Playing out of the slot lends to Kelce’s strength as an explosive, fluid athlete who can work with more space than he could from an in-line position. He also gets more favorable matchups from the slot than he would out wide because he is typically not getting covered man-to-man by the team’s primary outside cornerback.

What makes Kelce so threatening is that he can play all three positions well. Some of the lower end productivity can likely be attributed to minimal sample sizes and the randomness of football because he has the talent to win from anywhere. That being said, Kelce’s home is as a jumbo slot player and that is likely where he will see the majority of his targets from again in 2018.

My reaction: It was interesting to see that Kelce was more efficient (albeit with a small sample size) as an in-line tight end in 2017.

I do agree that Kelce as a big slot and as an isolated receiver are the two best places for him. He’s such a mismatch wherever he lines up, but he seems to win when he is allowed to work more as a receiver than a tight end.

He’s more than capable of doing things as an in-line tight end, but the real problems are created when he’s given the freedom to move all over the field. We saw last week that he was able to hook up with Patrick Mahomes isolated on the backside of the formation. I expect we’ll see plenty of that as well as work from the slot this year.


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