Travis Kelce was, without a doubt, one of the stories of the current NFL season. Between his podcast, commercials and headline-grabbing relationship with Taylor Swift, it seems like the Kansas City Chiefs tight end was everywhere. But, in terms of his on-field work, Kelce’s campaign was something of a mixed bag.
While No. 87 generally played well, his numbers were down by his standards. He also missed two games (the season opener and season finale) and finished with less than 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2015. There were also conversations along the way, wondering if Kelce was either distracted by his off-field engagements or simply getting old.
The NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) released its second annual “Players’ All Pro-Team.” The roster was determined by votes from active players (with some caveats, like not voting for your teammates), and that’s where things get interesting. Players were eligible to vote for their fellow members of the position group and the group that they directly faced on the field.
“For example, centers could vote for: the best center, the best nose tackle, the best interior defensive lineman and the best off-ball linebacker in the league,” the announcement explained.
But onto the ballot itself, Kelce was still well-perceived by his peers. He earned the first-team tight end spot on the roster.
And, statistically, that makes sense. While the tight end’s metrics slumped across the board (he declined in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns on a per-game basis), he still performed rather well. He pulled in 93 catches (third among tight ends) for 984 yards (second among the position group) and five touchdowns (tied for seventh place). He also faced the challenge of being the Chiefs’ primary receiving threat and, therefore, the main target for opposing defenses, which makes his numbers that much more impressive.
In the world of sports, there’s a tendency to be black and white. Someone is either the GOAT (as in greatest of all-time) or a goat (who blew the game). Nuance gets lost when social media impressions, not to mention on-field wins and losses, are on the line.
Did Travis Kelce take a step back in 2023? Yes. His numbers were his numbers, and there’s no getting away from that. No matter the reason, No. 87 wasn’t as dominant of a force as he’s been in the past.
But with that being said, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Kelce didn’t fall off a cliff and catch 25 passes all season. His production in a down year would be the envy of most other teams. Getting year after year of wide-receiver-level stats from a tight end simply isn’t the norm.
To be clear, this is still something with which the Chiefs have to reckon. Their star player won’t be around forever, and he’s not getting any younger. Even if he’s helped by a more balanced offense—you’d have to think that general manager Brett Veach will retool the receiving corps similarly to how he rebuilt the offensive line after Super Bowl embarrassment—No. 87 is going to need to be replaced at some point.
And it’s fair to ask if you can even directly replace Kelce, or if you’ll need to completely adjust the game plan, since very few players possess a comparable skill set.
But it’s not time to make that move just yet. As the tight end’s peers indirectly said, the 2023 version of Kelce, whether he’s old, distracted or anything in between, is still pretty darn good.