All Aboard the Travis Kelce Fantasy Hype Train

draftkings week 13

Travis Kelce is currently the third tight end off the board in dynasty fantasy football drafts and the 44th player overall. Even as some are warning that the hype train is picking up too much speed for its own good, he could still be undervalued for a few reasons I’ll outline here.

We shouldn’t be afraid of Alex Smith and his babyhands

The people who are trying to slow down the hype train mostly talk about Kelce’s limited volume in a light passing attack. Some of these arguments are nuanced and reasonable, and others boil down to “But Alex Smith! LOLOLOL.” You might be surprised to learn that Kelce was the most efficient target Alex Smith has ever had by Adjusted Yards per Attempt (at least 50 targets):

Smith Kelce AYA

We shouldn’t be afraid of Alex Smith damaging Kelce’s stock. The second name in this graph – Vernon Davis – had consecutive top-two campaigns in 2009 and 2010 with Alex Smith throwing to him.

It’s entirely possible, if not probable, that Kelce scores more touchdowns this year

The Chiefs threw 67 passes in the red zone last year. Kelce was very effective, catching 10 of 13 passes for 96 yards and five touchdowns. Thirteen targets and five touchdowns are missing now that Anthony Fasano and Dwayne Bowe left town. If you figure the coaching staff makes it a priority to get an effective red zone option more targets, it’s very easy to project a much higher touchdown total. The five total touchdowns he scored last year are more likely to be his floor than his ceiling.

Andy Reid won’t shut up about how much he wants to throw to Kelce

OK, so I’m exaggerating a little, but the entire argument for Kelce as a dynasty commodity rests on a few more targets per game. Something to keep in mind is that Kelce was essentially on a pitch count in 2014, as he was cleared to play just a month before the season and was used on only two-thirds of KC’s offensive snaps.

I used the projection machine to run some numbers on his 2015 outlook. If we leave KC’s offense on the default settings, give the tight end 22 percent of targets (for a total of 120 on the season, or almost exactly two more per game) and set his catch rate (75 percent), yards per attempt (9.5), and touchdown rate (0.055) to their 2014 levels, Kelce’s 2015 season looks like this:

Kelce Projection Machine 2

That’s a 240 point season, and all we did was add two targets per game! There’s plenty of room for safety even if you think he can’t maintain last year’s efficiency.

The Tight End position is a barren hellscape

When Ricky Bobby said “If you’re not first, you’re last” he was talking about the tight ends available in his dynasty league. Here’s a chart showing the top 12 tight ends by points per game in 2014 (at least 12 games played):

2014 TEs 1

There’s a tremendous disparity between TE1 and TE12. Rob Gronkowski scored 78 percent more points per game than Heath Miller. That same disparity between best and twelfth-best doesn’t exist at running back (60 percent), wide receiver (42 percent), or quarterback (27 percent).

Given that he saw only 87 targets in what was essentially his rookie season, and his 0.53 reFPOEPT was excellent (but not too excellent), it’s very easy to see Kelce becoming the kind of asset that requires you to mortgage your team to acquire. Here’s a chart that summarizes his positives in comparison to 2014’s other top tight ends:

2014 TEs 3

Of 2014’s top 12 tight ends, Kelce:

  • Saw the second fewest targets
  • Had the second lowest snap percentage
  • Had the highest AYA
  • Had the third highest reFPOEPT
  • Is the youngest

If you’ve been playing dynasty for a few years, you’ll know that peak tight ends sell for a king’s ransom. This was the thought in the back of my mind that I was having difficulty articulating until recently – Kelce’s outlook has ifs and buts like anyone else’s, but he’s very close to appreciating into a dynasty asset that is worth its weight in gold. If the following happens, he’ll climb into that 15 points/game tier:

  • He sees two to three more targets per game
  • He maintains an reFPOEPT in the 0.5 range

That’s it. To justify his 44th overall ADP you only need to believe that he’s A) as good as his efficiency numbers indicate and B) Andy Reid is being sincere when he says Kelce will be a bigger part of the passing game. To justify spending considerably more on him, you need to believe that he’s summited the mountain while most of the other tight ends are still at base camp. That’s a bet I’ll be making in as many leagues as I can.