Why Travis Kelce Is Primed for a Breakout Season in 2015

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMay 30, 2015

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In 2014, the Kansas City Chiefs passing game was many things. Good was not one of them.

The team ranked 29th in the NFL in passing yardage. Twenty-seventh in passing touchdowns. Over the course of the entire 2014 campaign, not one Chiefs wideout caught a single touchdown pass. Not one.

The team took steps to address that issue this spring, signing Jeremy Maclin to a lucrative free-agent deal. However, if the Chiefs are going to get their passing game in gear in 2015, the key doesn't lie in their newest acquisition.

It lies in getting last year's leading receiver even more involved.

That would be third-year tight end Travis Kelce, whose 67 catches and 862 yards were both team highs. Kelce's five touchdown grabs tied for the team lead.

Granted, those numbers are hardly eye-popping, especially for club highs. However, they look considerably more impressive when you consider that despite playing in all 16 games last year, Kelce was on the field for fewer than 70 percent of the Chiefs' snaps.

In 2015, however, that's set to change.

Veteran Anthony Fasano, who played a nearly identical snap count to Kelce last season, was released in the spring. The Chiefs did add a tight end on Day 3 of the 2015 NFL draft, but Kelce is now the unquestioned No. 1 tight end in Kansas City.

And there's been plenty of hype to go with that ascension. As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher wrote, "anything short of the numbers posted annually by former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez might be a disappointment."

That's setting the bar pretty high, folks.

Kelce told Teicher that he's heard the sky-high expectations—and he intends to exceed them:

Nobody puts more expectation on me than myself. That’s just the heart of the competitor. That’s how I was raised. My father taught me that you can buy a man’s back, but you can’t buy his heart. With that being said, I come out here and make sure I put all my effort and focus into being the best player I can be.

There's more than a little reason to think Kelce could pull it off. The 6'5" 260-pounder, whose athleticism has drawn comparisons to Rob Gronkowski, ranked fourth at his position in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus. Among tight ends with over 60 receptions last year, only Gronkowski and Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans averaged more yards per catch.

And the Chiefs will need every bit of that ability in 2015. Yes, Kansas City added Maclin, and the team possesses one of the NFL's best running backs in Jamaal Charles. But outside of that? There isn't a whole heck of a lot.

The depth chart at both wide receiver and tight end in Kansas City is a mixture of unproven youngsters like Chris Conley and De'Anthony Thomas, and low-upside veterans like Jason Avant.

If the Chiefs are going to take full advantage of Maclin's ability to stretch the field, then they have to get opposing safeties to creep closer to the line of scrimmage. Charles will be a big help in that regard, but so would a dependable intermediate threat.

Like, say, a big, wildly athletic tight end like Kelce.

Then there's the matter of quarterback Alex Smith. The 31-year-old ranked 22nd in the NFL in yards per pass attempt in 2014. The year before, Smith ranked 34th.

Even if you think Smith is more than a popgun-armed game manager, the fact is his skill set isn't exactly a perfect match for Maclin's downfield speed. Smith is much more adept at hitting moving targets coming across the middle.

Like, say, a big, wildly athletic tight end like Kelce.

And that's the thing. There really aren't any special adjustments the Chiefs have to make to get Kelce the ball more in 2015. Assuming he stays healthy, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which Kelce doesn't set career highs across the board.

He's the best fit the team has for a glaring area of offensive need.

And if the Chiefs are going to make some hay in the AFC West and get back into the playoffs in 2015, it's going to be in large part because Travis Kelce lived up to those lofty expectations.

Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter at @IDPSharks.


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