During the entirety of the 2020 NFL regular season, there were 11 total plays run in which a team used four tight ends on the field simultaneously (14 personnel) — this according to Sharp Football. The Kansas City Chiefs ran zero.
Perhaps desiring that as an option, head coach Andy Reid, general manager Brett Veach and the Chiefs kept four tight ends on last year’s 53-man roster — Travis Kelce, Nick Keizer, Deon Yelder and Ricky Seals-Jones. Seals-Jones was tight end No. 4, but he played six total offensive snaps by season's end, none of which were with his three cohorts.
That personnel grouping was a non-option for the 2020 Chiefs; 2021 may prove to be a different story. Enter the tandem of Kelce, the returning Blake Bell, rookie Noah Gray and the revived Jody Fortson — and watch this touchdown play from Friday night’s preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Notice all the tight ends on the field (along with running back Darwin Thompson). Gray, Kelce and Fortson have routes into the end zone, and Bell initially blocks before leaking into the soft spot.
“It was kind of a roll-out play that we usually run,” described Mahomes after the game. “We actually had a couple in, not trying to give away too many secrets, but got a couple plays in. We were able to run that play, and they actually played pretty good defense, put us in zone coverage and that read was kind of Blake blocking down and sealing the edge and kind of leaking back out. I threw the ball a little low, and he showed off the hands and made a good play on it. You would have thought he was a former quarterback for sure.”
Reid has been the Chiefs’ head coach since 2013 — and he could not recall having the personnel that allowed him to trust in such a play.
“I told them that I’m not so sure since we’ve been here that we’ve had four guys like that,” he admitted. “They’re all good football players, so we threw them out there and gave them a shot. They were all excited and looked all right.”
Mahomes sees the four talented tight ends as a significant advantage.
“I think that having those tight ends on the field that can run, block and catch and then the offensive line that we’ve built here and how they’ve really been able to run the ball, I think it’s going to put some defenses in some very tough positions.
“They either have to put a lot of big people on the field to stop the run, or they have to find a way to stop those guys like Noah, Blake, Travis and Jody who can all catch the ball like a receiver.”
And it does not stop at tight end and running back; the Chiefs have looked so deep at receiver, there is a question as to whether they will keep fifth-round rookie Cornell Powell at Tuesday’s roster deadline, considering the preseason of Marcus Kemp and Daurice Fountain.
But that’s a good problem to have.
“We can be very flexible,” added Mahomes. “We can put all receivers on the field, we can put all tight ends on the field, kind of whatever it is. Being able to do that in this league, you want to be flexible, you want to be able to through change-ups at the defenses.
“When we got all the tight ends out there, it turned into a touchdown. Don’t tell the receivers, but it was a touchdown.”