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Travis Kelce is continuing to grow more valuable to the Chiefs

It’s might be hard to imagine, but the Kansas City tight end is becoming more and more irreplacable.

NFL: OCT 02 Chiefs at Buccaneers Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you were thinking that 33-year-old Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce might show signs of slowing down during the 2022 season, think again.

Kelce currently leads the team with 553 receiving yards, putting him on pace for 1,343 this season. That would be his second-best year — and easily give him his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season, setting another record for NFL tight ends. He has also seven receiving touchdowns, which leads not only the Chiefs but all NFL players (Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs also has seven). On that pace, he’ll have 17 this season — shattering his personal best of 11 touchdown catches in 2020.

And it’s not even because Tyreek Hill is gone. Through seven games last season, Kelce had 533 receiving yards. The rest of the team combined for 1,644 yards. This year, everyone-but-Kelce has 1,606 yards.

According to Kansas City tight ends coach Tom Melvin, we shouldn’t be surprised.

“You check the boxes with him,” the coach told reporters on Thursday. “How athletic he is, how smart he is, how well he takes care of his body, his outlook, his team perspective. He’s a competitor. So he’s got all those things going for him; it’s a conglomeration of everything building to where [he is today].”

And yet, Melvin believes that Kelce still hasn’t reached his ceiling.

“He continues to surprise us with doing different things, seeing different things and being able to go out and perform in different areas,” he noted. “[But] he’s still not his best self yet; he’s still got room [where] he can get better. That’s always what we strive to do: ‘OK, you’re doing this well, so let’s improve in this [other] category.’ And he keeps pushing that.”

But Kelce also pushes everyone around him. Wide receivers coach Joe Bleymaier said that the All-Pro tight end has been “invaluable” in helping the team’s new receivers figure out exactly what they’re expected to do in head coach Andy Reid’s offense.

“Trav has really been able to kind of translate, ‘Here’s what you have on this play [into] here’s what you have to do,’” explained Bleymeier. “And those guys get that. There’s a line on the paper — there’s a pattern — and then there’s a way that we need to run that (or the mindset we have to have) in how we’ve got to get that down in order to make first downs, to execute in the red zone or [go] down the field when teams are making you drive 12 or 14 plays. Trav’s been able to communicate that — as one of the guys who’s been here forever.”

It’s gotten to the point that Melvin can't talk about one of his other tight ends without eventually looping back to Kelce.

Kansas City Chiefs v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

“It’s been great watching him progress,” the coach said of tight end Jody Fortson on Thursday. “He gets better at the things that we set each week — as far as what he needs to attack and focus on — and then the other areas. He’s just a phenomenal athlete. You see that part of his game — and the more experience he gets, it’s great having the guys in the room. Travis obviously sees the game really well — and Blake Bell has been in the league for a while — so [Fortson’s] got people to hear (and give a perspective) on what he’s done in practice and in games.”

It happened again when Melvin was talking about second-year tight end Noah Gray.

“The things he did last year were a little more mechanical,” he said of Gray. “He can handle different layers in making decisions. Physically, he’s able to go with them now — where a year ago, it was just a tick off because he didn't recognize it; see it as quickly.

“And again... same thing with Travis in the room there: he can give him feedback on how he looks at something pre-snap and post-snap.”

Kelce has come a long way from being the hot-headed kid that Reid was concerned about drafting in 2013. He’s not only a team leader in the traditional sense but also a kind of assistant coach — even with players outside of his own position group.

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine the Chiefs without him. But we once said the same thing about Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, too.

And while Melvin acknowledged that luck with injuries is one of the things that has kept Kelce on the field long enough to accomplish all these things, it isn’t the only thing.

“There is luck, because injuries are always a huge part of this game,” he admitted. “So he’s been fortunate that the injuries he’s had. [But] he’s — one — played through — and two — the ones where he’s had surgery, he’s been able to come back from them.

“[So] it’s kind of a little bit of both. He has the highest pain tolerance — and he’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached in football.”

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