Travis Kelce has been the best tight end in fantasy for over half a decade. Coming off his sixth consecutive top-two season, Kelce remains as elite as they come. As age becomes more of a factor and the Chiefs deal with the loss of Tyreek Hill, how should dynasty fantasy football managers value Kelce in 2022 and beyond?
Travis Kelce’s dynasty profile for 2022
Evaluating tight ends is always a bit trickier than running backs and wide receivers. When it comes to tight ends, it’s not enough for a player to be one of the best at his position — he also has to be a difference-maker.
Kelce has been the dynasty TE1 for the last half-decade. But being the best doesn’t mean the same thing every season. From 2018-2020, Kelce finished as the overall TE1 in fantasy points per game (minimum eight games played). He averaged 18.4 ppg in 2018, 15.9 in 2019, and 20.9 in 2020. Those are all very different seasons. You can’t just say Kelce was the best tight end in fantasy and convey how well he performed.
Few things in fantasy have ever been more certain than Kelce. He’s finished top-two every season since 2016. Kelce is consistently one of the leaders in target share, receptions, and yardage. One of the most important attributes fantasy managers want from a tight end is routes run (as opposed to staying in to block). Kelce is at the top in routes run every season.
As any long-time fantasy manager knows, all good things must come to an end. Kelce will suffer the same fate. What dynasty managers need to figure out is when Kelce’s decline might happen and how far they’re willing to push it with an older but still elite tight end. The answer will determine how dynasty managers should value Kelce going forward.
Fantasy projection for Kelce
The end is near for Kelce, but it is not now. If anything, 2022 looks like it may be one of Kelce’s best seasons yet.
The Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins and received a cornucopia of draft picks in return. They received zero players. In addition, the Chiefs lost Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson. The only relevant returning Chiefs pass catchers are Kelce and Mecole Hardman.
The Chiefs signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Smith-Schuster was a necessary addition even before the team traded Hill, as they haven’t had a true WR2 during Patrick Mahomes’ entire tenure as the starting quarterback. MVS is their attempt to fix the Titanic with duct tape. They need someone to play outside, but Valdes-Scantling is about 1% as talented at Hill.
We can pencil the Chiefs in for a wide receiver within the first three rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft. That wide receiver may end up being very good. They may even take two. Regardless of what they do, they are not replacing Hill’s production. I fully expect Mahomes to lean on Kelce now more than ever. He’s spent his entire career with exactly two reliable pass catchers. Now, he only has one.
Kelce is never going to surpass his incredible 2020 season when he averaged 20.9 ppg. However, I fully expect him to improve upon his 2021 campaign when he averaged 16.4 ppg.
Kelce’s career-high in target share was 26.6% in 2018. It genuinely would not shock me if he pushed 30% this season. Mahomes and the Chiefs simply may not have a choice.
What is Kelce’s future beyond 2022?
This is where things get a bit tricky. Let’s start with the good part. Dynasty managers do not have to worry about Kelce leaving Mahomes. Kelce is signed through 2025. When he hits free agency, he’ll be 37 years old. He may not even be in the NFL at that point. If he is, he certainly won’t be an elite fantasy tight end anymore.
Now, for the problematic part. Kelce will be 33 years old in October. I have no concerns about his ability to produce at an elite level this season. Probably not next season either. But the end is closer than the beginning.
The good news is we’ve seen Hall of Fame tight ends remain productive into their mid-30s. Antonio Gates posted a top-five season at age 34 in 2014. Tony Gonzalez was a top-five tight end in his final season at age 37 in 2013. Kelce is undoubtedly headed to the Hall of Fame when he retires.
Kelce won’t be a threat to finish as the overall TE1 for much longer, but he should still have another 2-3 years left with that in his range of outcomes. Beyond that, he can still be productive as he ages in a more complementary role to a true WR1 that the Chiefs will presumably have by then.
What can fantasy managers expect from Kelce?
In the immediate future, expect another couple of elite TE1 seasons. Kelce is going to absolutely dominate targets this season. There is concern that the Chiefs may not be able to score as much without Hill, but they can score enough to get Kelce to 10 touchdowns. The rest he can do with volume.
Dynasty managers should still value Kelce as an elite fantasy tight end. Given his age, it’s difficult to recommend buying him unless you’re a win-now team. However, even a rebuilding team that already has Kelce may not necessarily need to trade him. You should certainly explore the possibility, though.
Kelce is undoubtedly a player that can be part of 2022 and 2023 championship runs in dynasty formats. If you can sell his manager on concerns over his age and production without Hill, Kelce is a buy for contending teams. For those rebuilding, only sell Kelce if you’re getting tremendous value in return. He may only have 2-3 elite years left, but that is a long time in the NFL.