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Off-Season Film Session 1: Travis Kelce

Note to the reader: This will be the first in what will be a series of off-season film reviews featuring some of the best plays of members of the Chiefs Super Bowl 54 winning team. It’s a long offseason so I will hope to cover most of the major contributors for the team. There will be a small break in the series of reviews around draft time as well as free agency to highlight new additions to the team. Leave comments in the articles or on clips I post on Twitter about which players you would like to see, the more comments for a player the more likely it will be they are featured quicker.

In the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs would strike gold in selecting TE Travis Kelce. Seven years later Kelce has been apart of one of the biggest rebuilds in NFL history that ended in a Super Bowl 54 championship for the Chiefs, their first in 50 years. Kelce in that time has been a five-time Pro Bowler as well as a being a four-time All-Pro. This past season Kelce became the first TE in NFL history to record four straight one thousand yard seasons.

From the first game on Kelce set the tone for how his season was going to go. Traveling to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars in week one, Patrick Mahomes wasted little time hooking up with his favorite target. Jacksonville tried to match up Kelce with A.J. Bouye, a former All-Pro CB. In the past it has been proven that Linebackers struggle immensely due to the athleticism Kelce possesses. Instead of trying to bully him with a bigger player the Jaguars go smaller to try to contain his speed and get him covered up. Bouye tries to jam him off the line but Kelce is able to create separation with his superior size advantage. Kelce has a “Climb” route which upon first glance to the backers is just a dig pattern, but unlike a dig, Kelce keeps moving up the field as he runs across. Beautiful pass and catch and Kelce is a shoelace away from a touchdown. Bouye is a very good corner and Kelce made burning him look easy.

In week two against the Oakland Raiders again Kelce had one of his best routes of the season. Safety Karl Joseph tries to jame Kelce on the LOS but watch the outside release. He swats the hands away from the jam and then an excellent stutter move in space gives him enough room for Mahomes to make the pass. The high safety is too late to make the play. Beautiful over the shoulder grab. At this point watching the film on the Chiefs for the season must have been getting difficult for defensive coordinators everywhere, safeties and corners were getting torched off the ball and it was only week two.

Chuck Clark, the safety for Baltimore, attempts to jam Kelce off the ball and does a pretty good job, but has to let go at five yards to avoid pass interference. Kelce just keeps fighting through the coverage but as Clark lets go Kelce gets into his cross pattern. Mahomes hits him for the big gain and Kelce uses his pivot move in space to throw off Clark’s tackle and gain a few extra yards.

With the injury to Patrick Mahomes in week seven against Denver the Chiefs would have to go with Matt Moore under center. This would mean that the rest of the Chiefs offense would have to step up and play their best football to prevent a slide and also keep the Chiefs in games. Andy Reid just calls a simple run action pass with Kelce having a slant. Kelce comes open and it’s an easy ball for Moore to complete. However, after the catch Kelce breaks right through the arm tackle and gets an even bigger gain on the play. The perfect blend of athleticism and power is on full display here.

This was a great call by Any Reid and Eric Bienemy to allow Moore to get the ball to his athletes. The fake run action and the good sell by Kelce opens up a whole side of the field from the right hash to the corner of the end zone. With some pressure in the pocket, Moore is able to just get the ball off but it is not where Kelce was expecting it. Kelce has to relocate the ball and as he sees it he picks up his stride to make the awesome catch. This clip really displays how fast Kelce can move in the open field. Without Mahomes, he provided the spark the Chiefs needed offensively.

Against the Los Angeles Chargers, the full arsenal of Kelce was displayed. He beats the corner outside with a nice release but the corners stay underneath him playing zone while the high safety is waiting for anything to the end zone or back toward the middle of the field. Kelce beats the coverage with his flag route, but with the coverage, Mahomes has to throw it right around the pylon. Kelce never breaks stride to make the grab and just gets both feet down for the score.

The way Mahomes and Kelce were able to hook up time and time again over the last two seasons shows just how much chemistry the two have built up in such a short period of time. Their influence on one another has greatly shifted the game, as well as shifted the course of football history.

The great chemistry was on display once again at Arrowhead in a must win against the Raiders. Kelce is initially covered up well on the play, and the rush gets back to Mahomes and makes him keep backing up. This is the only duo in the NFL that could pull off this play. Mahomes notices nobody is to the left of Kelce. Kelce is going against the safety, so the size advantage is there. Mahomes leaves up a jump ball for Kelce. He makes a tremendous vertical leap on the play and does an even better job of securing the ball as he is tackled to the ground. Each brings out the best in one another. There is not another TE, and only Michael Thomas for WRs, that could make this grab.

Later in the game, the Chiefs use the climb route with Kelce once again to beat zone coverage. These deeper routes to Kelce are something that we have seen blossom. Before with Alex Smith at QB, the Chiefs saw just how dominate Kelce could be in the short/intermediate game, but with Mahomes, we are now seeing just how much Kelce can really do. Teams aren’t used to covering TEs who can run the length of the field and then after the catch turn it up and run for even more. Unmatched athleticism and an unmatched arm have changed the game.

For most of the season, the Chiefs had struggled to find success in short-yardage situations but really struggled with plays on the goal line. To fix this issue Andy Reid put the ball in one of his most athletic player’s hands. Against the New England Patriots, the Chiefs shift their formation to have Kelce take the snap. KC uses a simple zone read concept with Tyreek Hill coming over to bluff the run. The defenders react and Kelce pulls the ball, and with good vision sees that the outside defenders have vacated the area. Kelce runs down the line following blocks and finds the end zone.

Kelce was a former QB in high school and in his senior season he had ten rushing touchdowns. The background and the skill set was there for him to be able to make this read on the triple option play look natural. We would see this again in the Super Bowl on a third down. The Chiefs would convert but with this newfound play calling in the red zone the Chiefs might have become even more dangerous just due to the versatility. It will be interesting to see if moving forward the Chiefs continue to use this “Wild Kelce” look.

Nothing phases Kelce, not even the snow and cold. In week 15 against the Denver Broncos Kelce became the mayor of Denver. In his best game of the season he had 11 receptions for a whopping 142 yards.

He runs a skinny post here and it looks so effortless. That’s Chris Harris and All-Pro corner trying to guard him. It’s too easy. The snow slowed down the Broncos secondary but it allowed Kelce to have even more separation in his cuts.

Kelce matched up on a corner, no problem. He easily wins the outside release and with the high safety coming over Mahomes leaves it a little high so Kelce has more time to catch it in the blizzard.

Great players do not let the weather conditions effect them and Kelce played his best game, maybe ever, in a blizzard. He’s bigger, faster, and stronger than anyone who can guard him.

Despite the physical gifts, Andy Reid still found creative ways to get Kelce into the endzone. The use of crossing patterns from Hill and Watkins and the pre-snap motion open up Kelce on the angle route. This was a great play design for an easy six. Kelce is one of the most beaten-up Chiefs on the team with opponents trying to constantly bracket coverage him as well as use two or three guys to tackle him. Nice to see an easy score go his way, considering how much he usually has to fight.

Kelce is without question the best receiving TE in the NFL right now. George Kittle would be second on that list but it’s not as close as it seems. Kelce can run routes such as those club routes that no other TE possesses the speed to run. But for some reason, some uninformed hot take, there is a notion that Kelce is a wide receiver and not a real tight end. ” He doesn’t put his hand in the dirt every play.” This is 2020, it’s a passing league now, and the Chiefs happen to be very good at that. No other TE has their hand in the dirt every single play. When you have something as potent as what Mahomes and Kelce have, finding ways to get them in sync is key, and sometimes using Kelce as the outside receiver is key for a good mismatch.

With all that being said Kelce is a very underrated blocker. The Chiefs run power to the right. Kelce has to one on one block some guy named Khalil Mack. Kelce makes great contact off the ball and keeps his hands tight while moving his feet to seal Mack. The play is designed to go inside but Spencer Ware goes out despite the hole (He was still working his way back into the offense). Chiefs still gain five and Kelce set most of it up by being able to stay locked onto Mack the entire time.

Against the Ravens, the Chiefs use Kelce’s receiving prowess to their advantage. Kelce locks onto the safety and drives him upfield but manages to open up a big lane for Darrell Williams to catch and run. This is basically a two-man screen game taking advantage of the Raven’s alignment. This is a legal pass behind the line of scrimmage. A big first down play, and it shows Kelce’s willingness to open up the rest of his teammates for success.

Late against Denver, the Chiefs were looking to chew up some clock. LeSean McCoy hits a cutback lane for a big play but it was all set up by Kelce. Cam Erving and Kelce have a combo on the three-technique on this zone play. The left inside backer blitzes, so Kelce takes over the block as Erving contacts the backer. A huge hole opens as a result. Kelce has excellent leverage on his man, driving him nearly five yards off the ball. That’s what it looks like to physically dominate somebody and Kelce made it look easy.

Kelce is the best TE in the game right now and in my opinion a top ten player in the NFL. When seeing how much he does for the Chiefs offense as a whole it is easy to see why Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes value his presence and his voice in the locker room so much. He and Mahomes have only hit the tip of the iceberg in their potential. Kelce is 30 years old and it looks like he hasn’t lost a step, in fact to me this has been his most impressive season thus far. The passion and attitude is always there. We have all watched Kelce grow into the leader he is now. Mahomes and Kelce have a chance to go down as one of the all-time dynamic duos in the history of the sport. A Super Bowl is now already on an impressive resume and it will be fun to see how much better Kelce can get with age.

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