Kansas City Chiefs: Full Position and Depth Chart Breakdown at Tight End
Tight ends have usually been a feature of an Andy Reid offense, but that wasn't the case for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. Injuries disrupted the starting rotation, leading to only mild production from this key position.
However, things could change dramatically this season. The return to full health of a veteran signed last offseason, along with the potential emergence of two younger players, gives the Chiefs plenty of options.
Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson won't hesitate to use these options and dedicate a bigger part of the playbook to tight ends. Here's how this position's depth chart breaks down in Kansas City.
Anthony Fasano missed seven games and caught just 23 passes during his first season with the Chiefs. The former Miami Dolphins starter must stay healthy in year two.
Fasano is a talented tight end, capable of operating as a classic, in-line blocker and receiver, as well as a "move" target who can be shifted across formations.
At 6'4" and 255 pounds, Fasano is a height and size mismatch against most defenders. What he doesn't boast is game-changing speed. Fasano is a pass-catcher who gets open through muscle and guile, rather than dynamic athleticism.
The 30-year-old is an underrated safety valve, one quarterback Alex Smith can depend on. Of course, all of that depends on him actually being on the field.
Fortunately, he has looked sharp during several OTAs, including recent minicamp practices, per ESPN.com reporter Adam Teicher: "Tight end Anthony Fasano had a big day, making several catches."
A full and positive offseason for Fasano bodes well for Smith and the Chiefs offense. Possession-style passing is still a big part of Reid and Pederson's schemes. That demands a big-bodied, sure-handed receiver like Fasano.
Reid doesn't always use a fullback in his offense, but he might consider converting Sean McGrath to that role. Fasano's injury woes meant this limited receiver was called into action a lot at tight end in 2013.
McGrath's numbers reflected the minor role the position played in last season's offense. He collected just 26 receptions for 302 yards.
Like Fasano, McGrath lacks elite quickness, but he knows how to get open, especially over the middle. However, his frame and limited range mean he's never likely to be a source for big plays.
But he is the kind of shifty receiver who often gets lost in traffic, making him an ideal target in the flats or on screens. McGrath's best value might be in a H-Back-type role.
Expect him to be only a rotational figure at tight end this season. His reps will be severely diminished if Fasano stays healthy and one of the following two youngsters emerges.
Travis Kelce is one of two young players with the potential to shake things up at this position in 2014. He possesses a potent blend of physicality and quickness that no other tight end on the roster can match.
Sadly, the Chiefs didn't get the chance to utilize this size and speed mismatch last season. Kelce appeared in just one game, after arriving as a third-round pick, before a torn ACL wrecked his rookie campaign.
But the Chiefs are reportedly optimistic about how Kelce can expand the offense this season, per Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star. That optimism is well-founded, considering Kelce's potential as a receiver.
ESPN.com writer Adam Teicher has noted that Kelce possesses attributes the Chiefs didn't have at the position in 2013: "He adds a nice dimension to their passing game because of his size (260 pounds) and his ability to catch passes down the field."
The Chiefs are naturally taking a cautious approach with Kelce's recovery. But he's still managed to showcase his potential, during brief work at OTAs, according to Paylor.
The Chiefs are currently brimming with pieces of the ideal weapon at tight end. Fasano has good size and hands, and knows how to get open, but lacks awesome speed. Meanwhile, McGrath can move but isn't particularly dynamic.
Kelce is the closest thing Reid has to the complete tight end. If he's healthy, expect the Chiefs to move Kelce around a lot to attack defenses this season.
If Kelce is the most complete player at this position, Demetrius Harris is certainly the most intriguing. The former basketball player offers a level of flexibility and athleticism the other options at tight end simply cannot match.
Those are attributes that have become key characteristics of the modern, "move" tight end. The type of hybrid weapon who can outrun linebackers, overpower defensive backs and leap above any kind of coverage, expands the whole playbook for an offense.
The Chiefs don't have that kind of versatility among their other receiving targets. Harris faces a tough battle making that level of impact, but the potential is definitely there.
He has been an impressive figure during OTAs, per ESPN.com scribe Adam Teicher:
Tight end Demetrius Harris continued to make some impressive catches. He took an interception away from Derrick Johnson with a nice grab and later caught an Ales Smith pass that was low and behind him.
Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson is also encouraged by Harris' natural ability, per Dave Skretta of KCChiefs.com: "The emergence of Demetrius Harris, he's a tremendous talent. He mixes in there with those guys."
What Harris has is the raw tools of a natural playmaker. The next step is mastering the nuances of the position, as well as refining his technique. So far at least, Harris is making a good start in that area.
If Chiefs fans will permit this writer to use AFC West rival the Denver Broncos as an example of Harris' potential, then consider the case of Julius Thomas. Another tight end with a basketball background, Thomas had caught only one pass in two seasons, before hauling in 65 in 2013.
Now there's no guarantee Harris makes anywhere close to that impact, or even survives final roster cuts. But his natural move skills and ability to stretch the middle zones are something Reid and Pederson must explore fully this offseason.
Richard Gordon is the longest of long shots to make the roster. He joined the Chiefs as a castoff last season, appearing in only two games and finishing the season with just one catch for three yards.
Gordon had already spent time with both the Pittsburgh Steelers and hated rivals the Oakland Raiders. At 6'4" and 268 pounds, his best value is likely as a blocker, but he won't be kept around solely for that skill.
Health is the key for the Chiefs at tight end. If their main options can stay on the field, this position is pretty loaded.
Fasano is a very capable player. His penchant for getting open in the red zone can be invaluable to this season's offense.
But the real interest comes from Kelce and Harris, two players likely to be in competition. They both have the basic tools to emerge as multi-faceted weapons in Reid's offense.
Whichever one delivers on his obvious potential should see plenty of playing time. Smith is a quarterback who will lean on a prolific tight end, while Reid is a play-caller who won't ignore the position.