Kansas City Chiefs' Hopes Rest on Travis Kelce This Season

Ethan Bailey@@ebai_todayFeatured Columnist ISeptember 17, 2015

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is set to have a superstar year that the team will rely on in 2015.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is set to have a superstar year that the team will rely on in 2015.Patric Schneider/Associated Press

Forget the dominance of running back Jamaal Charles—there's a new elite player on the Kansas City Chiefs offense, and his name is Travis Kelce.

You've probably heard of him. In 2014, the Chiefs' tight end essentially acted as the team's No. 1 receiver, gashing defenses on his way to an 862-yard, five-touchdown season.

Those statistics may not jump out at you immediately, but when you consider Kelce had the highest yards per reception mark on the team (12.9), it makes his debut season that much more impressive. 

The following infographic compares the receiving statistics of Kelce to the team's No. 1 receiver last season, who was Dwayne Bowe:

Travis Kelce was targeted less than receiver Dwayne Bowe last season but ended up with more catches and yards.
Travis Kelce was targeted less than receiver Dwayne Bowe last season but ended up with more catches and yards.Graphic made on Piktochart using stats from Pro Football Reference.

Are Kelce's statistics a product of an Andy Reid offense or of quarterback Alex Smith's tendency to throw underneath? Considering Kelce's performance against the Houston Texans last weekend, it seems as though Reid understands the type of elite threat his second-year player can be to opposing defenses. 

Following the trend of getting Kelce the ball has transferred to the 2015 season, as the graphic below illustrates. Against the Texans, Kelce was, once again, Smith's No. 1 target in the passing game:

Travis Kelce was a key part of KC's passing offense in Week 1, and fans should expect the trend to continue throughout 2015.
Travis Kelce was a key part of KC's passing offense in Week 1, and fans should expect the trend to continue throughout 2015.Graphic made on Piktochart using stats from Pro Football Reference.
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Kelce's 17.7 yards per reception against the Texans was higher than any other Chiefs receiver by at least five yards. And, as great as Charles is, he only averaged 3.6 yards per carry on the ground against a fierce Houston defensive line. 

Of course, defenses still have to always account for Charles, who can burn a team for a quick six at any time. It's partly why Kelce is so ridiculously open on this 42-yard touchdown catch:

The other reason Kelce is so open is because of his route-running ability. He fakes inside and then quickly maneuvers his 6'5", 260-pound frame toward the sideline, finding a huge hole in the Texans' secondary. 

It also helps to have a squeaky-clean pocket for the quarterback, as CBS Sports' Pete Prisco points out with this photo from the long touchdown pass:

Any way you slice it, Kelce is showing he can be a superstar in the NFL at the tight end position. In the following highlight, you'll see how Kelce is simply a matchup nightmare for defensive backs:

The way Kelce goes up—way up—in traffic and brings the ball down with his hands is reminiscent of Rob Gronkowski. Kelce may not have Gronk-type numbers (yet), but he's quickly showing he can be that type of difference-making tight end in this league. 

It's no secret that the Chiefs are going to heavily rely on Kelce's abilities this season. In 2014, he accounted for literally a quarter of Kansas City's passing offense, and his slice of the pie against Houston in Week 1 of 2015 is a sign of things to come. 

Remember that the Chiefs didn't have a single passing touchdown to a wide receiver last season. That's bound to change after the team brought in Jeremy Maclin to shore up the wide receiver corps in 2015, but the core game plan of running with Charles and passing to Kelce isn't going to change.

Expect Kelce to be the workhorse the Chiefs rely on for success this season. 

The infographics in this piece were created by the author using Piktochart and statistics taken from Pro Football Reference. You can follow Ethan on Twitter @ebai_today

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