Fantasy Football Exit Interview: Has Travis Kelce broken tight end for good?

Travis Kelce has already booked a Hall of Fame ticket. He’s been the fantasy TE1 or TE2 in seven straight seasons. He’s been a Top-10 player in Value Based Drafting rank in four of the past five years. The difference between 2022 Kelce and this year’s TE2 (T.J. Hockenson) is basically the same as the gap between Hockenson and Robert Tonyan, the TE20.

Fantasy football is all about marginal values, the difference between peers at the same position. Kelce’s smashed in this area. No one can debate his immense value.

So this leads to two obvious questions:

1. Should Kelce be a first-round pick in fantasy next year?

I'm not positive that Kelce is a legitimate first-round pick in 2023, and I certainly won't draft him in the Top-6. He enters his age-34 season next year, and although it's entirely possible he'll continue to keep smashing, some of the recent tight end superstars have hit rough patches in the later stages of their careers. Tony Gonzalez was never a bad fantasy player, but he slipped to TE8 in his age-34 season. Rob Gronkowski was TE1 in 2017, then ran TE11, TE8, TE5 in his last three years. Antonio Gates was TE2 in his age-30 season, then charted TE7, TE12, TE9, TE11, TE10, TE29, and TE27 on his back nine.

Even Kelce’s divine 2022 season had a bumpy ending, as he didn’t score a touchdown after November. If we grade all the tight ends from Week 14 onward, Kelce slot TE7 in standard and TE4 in full-point PPR. Those are solid rankings, sure. But it’s not the same as the breaking-the-game Kelce we saw in the opening three months.

Maybe the Chiefs will do a better job of stocking the wide-receiver room next year, cutting into Kelce’s production. Perhaps Kelce will have more physical obstacles in his age-34 year, after missing just two games in the last six seasons. It’s no fun to play actuary with one of the best talents we’ve seen in the past 20 years, but being pragmatic is a fantasy skill, too.

2. Has tight end become so watered down that we should just bag the position entirely, lump the tight ends in with wideouts or flexes?

And I’m never giving up tight end as a static position for any fantasy league I run. I want my leagues to be more dynamic, more choice-driven. I want more potential paths to consider with my roster construction. If you take tight end off my plate, you’re making the decision tree more narrow. That is never something I’ll be happy about.

Perhaps it’s possible someone could knock Kelce off the TE1 throne next year. Let’s look at some of the top scorers from this season, and say something nice about them.

T.J. Hockenson quickly acclimated himself in Minnesota, Kirk Cousins is a plus quarterback, and Hockenson merely turns 26 in July.

George Kittle turned into a touchdown monster down the stretch, scoring seven times in four games, clicking with Brock Purdy. And maybe Trey Lance will finally get a healthy season and justify the draft capital San Francisco spent on him.

Mark Andrews didn't have a fun year, but he still graded as the TE4 — and was our TE1 just two years back.

Taysom Hill may or many not have tight end eligibility next year, but he's dynamic as a runner and has plenty of touchdown equity.

It took a while for the Jaguars to unlock Evan Engram, but he was smoking down the stretch, and Trevor Lawrence is closing in on stardom.

You can go down the list and find other breakout candidates. Dallas Goedert is an efficiency darling, he just needs better luck with his health. David Njoku made plenty of splash plays, and I dare Deshaun Watson to play this poorly again. The arrow is pointed up on young talents like Chigoziem Okonkwo, Pat Freiermuth and Cole Kmet. Maybe the Falcons will someday find the skeleton key for Kyle Pitts.

Are you taking Kelce in the first round next year? Are you trying to dump the tight end position in your league? I welcome your feedback: @scott_pianowski on Twitter. Let's figure this out together.

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