Travis Kelce is only 144 days younger than Rob Gronkowski. But Kelce is a big Gronk fan and believes he helped pave the way for Kelce to become the player he is today.
Gronkowski was already in the NFL and playing for the Patriots when Kelce, a quarterback in high school, started playing the tight end position at the University of Cincinnati.
In 2011, Gronkowski’s second NFL season, he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. It was a record-shattering season for tight ends.
Kelce, 31, had 1,416 receiving yards this season, establishing an NFL record. Kansas City’s All-Pro tight end said it wouldn’t have been possible if not for Gronkowski.
"He transcended [the position] just in terms of being such a dominant force, a big athletic guy that can run up the seams, catch the ball, make a few guys miss, break a tackle, and take it to the house," Kelce said. "You don’t see that in every single offense. What that did for a guy like myself, coming into the league was it gave coach Andy Reid an understanding that we can use the tight end position a certain way if he works on his craft enough."
Kelce has done that and is a major reason that Kansas City is in Super Bowl LV on Sunday, going for its second straight championship. But Kansas City has to beat Tampa Bay and the old New England connection of Tom Brady and Gronkowski that Kelce studied.
"Gronk’s career has been unbelievable," Kelce said. "He’s going to go down in history as one of the best players to ever play this game. The guy is an unbelievable person, talent, you name it. I might be one of the biggest Gronk fans out there.
"I’m happy as heck for him to be able to reach the mountain peak all over again. It’s a little bit personal. It’s got to be that way. I’m here and playing this game to be the best that I can be. It comes with holding yourself to a high standard."
For many years, Gronkowski was considered the best tight end in football. Now Kelce is mentioned in that rarefied air along with San Francisco’s George Kittle.
Kelce, who was drafted in the third round by Reid and Kansas City in 2013, has had more than 83 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in five consecutive seasons. He caught 105 passes and 11 touchdowns this year, and set the receiving yards record despite missing one game.
"Travis Kelce is a special player," Patrick Mahomes said.
"He’s trying to get better than what he is, which I appreciate," Reid said.
Kelce certainly has benefited from playing for Reid, as well as with Mahomes and speedy receiver Tyreek Hill. But all of their careers might not be the same if not for Kelce and his versatility and durability.
He’s missed just three games in the last six seasons. Kelce always seems to be there when Mahomes needs someone to make a big play or keep a drive alive.
Kelce had 13 catches for 188 yards and two TDs in the AFC title game against Buffalo. In the divisional round versus Cleveland, Kelce caught eight passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.
"He has a lot of savvy," Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. "He can figure things out, whether you’re singling him, doubling him or playing zone . . . He’s probably one of the best I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching. You marvel at watching him play because if there’s a big play to be had somehow he finds a way to get open, and that says a lot about the guy."
Kelce is one of the players helping the tight end position evolve even more. He lines up in the traditional spot, in the slot or on the outside and continues to be a force.
"I’m sitting here and listening to everybody tell me I’m a wide receiver," Kelce said. "Call me whatever you want to call me. I’m a football player that’s being accountable for my teammates. I’m doing what my coaches and my teammates ask me to do and that’s trying to win my matchups."
Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce has been the model of consistency the last five years. His regular-season numbers:
Rec. Yds. Avg.
2016 85 1,125 13.2
2017 83 1,038 12.5
2018 103 1,336 13.0
2019 97 1,229 12.7
2020 105 1,416 13.5