There are many ways to measure a receiving season by an elite NFL tight end. However you look at what the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce did in the 2020 regular season and continues to do in the 2021 playoffs, he has just posted the best single-year performance the position has ever seen.
Kelce set a record for tight end receptions with 105 on 145 targets, beating his own mark from 2018, 103 on 150 targets. He also set the record for tight end receiving yards in a season with 1,416. That was the second-best total in the NFL in 2020, behind only Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ 1,535 yards.
Kelce also scored 11 TDs, which tied for him for fifth in the league with another tight end, the Packers’ Robert Tonyan. That’s the only number Kelce didn’t get in the all-time “triple crown” for tight end.
Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez each posted multiple big seasons. Zach Ertz and Dallas Clark also have spiked into the upper-echelon of single-season tight end brilliance.
But the only one who can even compare to what Kelce did to dominate in 2020 is another famed No. 87, Rob Gronkowski. His 2011 season with the Patriots has been the standard for a while: 90 catches on 124 targets, 1,327 receiving yards and the tight end record 18 total TDs (one rushing).
So it comes down to whether Kelce made up for the disparity in scoring with his other numbers. First of all, Kelce was needed to play in only 15 games as the Chiefs, with the No. 1 seed in hand, rested him in Week 17 against the Chargers. Second, the 2011 Patriots (513 points) actually outscored the 2020 Chiefs (473 points) by a significant margin.
Gronkowski scored 21 percent of his team’s points then. The other offensive Patriots then combined for 39 TDs, with running back BenJarvus Green-Elllis (11 TDs) and wide receiver Wes Welker (9 TDs) next on the list.
Kelce scored 14 percent of his team’s points. But part of the reason he didn’t score more is because Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill led the team with 15 TDs. Only eight other Chiefs scored receiving TDs, for a total of 14.
Like Gronkowski with Welker for Tom Brady, Kelce was the co-go-to guy with Hill for Patrick Mahomes. How much Gronkowski and Kelce scored in relation to the rest of the team doesn’t create a separation. Consistency, however, does.
Kelce either scored a touchdown or had at least 70 receiving yards in 14 of 15 games in 2020. He had one “bad” game, catching only 3 passes for 31 yards in a rout over the Broncos in Week 7. He averaged 94.4 yards per game.
Gronkowski, despite the 18 TDs, didn’t score in six of 16 games in 2011. He was held to fewer than 70 yards receiving in five of 16 games. Gronk averaged 82.9 yards per game.
What’s interesting is that Gronkowski, despite his year off in retirement before returning to the Buccaneers for this season, is a little older than Kelce at the same age, 31. With his injuries, Gronkowski has played in 131 regular-season games, only 20 more than Kelce’s 111. Gronkowski has three Super Bowl rings to Kelce’s one. Durability has been a big factor in Kelce’s success.
Then consider the 2011 Patriots didn’t win after Gronkowski’s monster season, being upset by the Giants for second time in five years in the Super Bowl. Kelce can still cap his season with another championship and a repeat ring.
There have been few consistently uncoverable forces at tight end. Kelce has emerged to be one like Gronkowski, and both will be compared again in the future as Pro Football Hall of Famers. It would be only fitting for Kelce to confirm he had the best tight end season ever by Kelce and the Chiefs getting the better of Gronkowski’s Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55.