Jazz among the symphony; Travis Kelce is STILL always open
Walking through how Kelce, at 33, continues to be one of the most impossible players to defend in the NFL.
There isn’t anyone like Travis Kelce.
A lot of that can be seen in his unprecedented statistical success at the tight end position, which we’ve talked about at length. He’s lapped the field at his position in thousand-yard receiving seasons and is within reach of starting to threaten all-time receiving records if his health holds up.
But given the week we’ve had regarding Kelce, and all the non-football conversation surrounding him, I thought it would be good to look a little bit at what makes him such a unique player. And not just in terms of statistics, but the way in which he’s managed to outproduce his peers year after year.
There really isn’t anyone in the NFL who runs routes quite the way Travis Kelce does, and that’s something that should never be forgotten by football fans or… people who are new to football who are cheering for Kelce for other reasons. In a game defined by exacting measurements and perfect execution of play calls, Kelce is out here freelancing while the rest of the world is stuck playing the notes they’re given. He’s a jazz musician in the middle of an orchestra.
The things that Kelce does that are unique might not stand out when watching a broadcast, but fortunately for all of us on Sunday, former Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen was providing commentary for the game, and he provided tremendous insight into an ordinary-looking play.
(Kelce is the highlighted player in motion to start the play)
Here, on 3rd and 3, the Chiefs needed a first down to keep their drive moving. The Bears lined up in zone, trying to cover every passing lane possible to give their pass rush time to create pressure on Mahomes. Without getting too deep into the weeds, the cornerback at the bottom of the screen’s job is to sink deep to cover a potential “corner” route by Kelce, which is where he looks to be running given the route combination underneath. Here’s what that cornerback is seeing develop:
The general route combination here involves two receivers running quick comebacks, with Kelce running a corner route to try and drag defenders away from them. One of the underneath defenders is moving up on those routes to contest if the ball is coming there. The top circled defender is taking the middle of the field. And so the cornerback at the bottom of the screen does exactly what he’s supposed to do; Sink back to take away Kelce’s route to the corner.
As Olsen said in the broadcast, when the corner executed this coverage in practice, it’s almost a guarantee that he was told “nice job” and that he’d gone to the right spot. The problem is that Kelce also sees where the corner is heading, and so does Patrick Mahomes. and that’s where Kelce’s unique field vision and connection with Mahomes makes things unfair.
Rather than running the corner route as (from all appearances) drawn up, Kelce sees that said route will be covered but that he’s currently in an open space between three defenders. And so he simply turns around and offers Mahomes a target in that spot, trusting that Mahomes will see the same thing. Which he does.