A short resume of college production, an injury that required surgery this past January and a team-imposed season-long suspension his sophomore year have all raised questions about TE Travis Kelce’s game and potential. But there’s no denying his physical talent and aggressiveness on the field. Where he comes off the board in the draft however, figures to be impacted by the setbacks he’s faced.
Kelce won’t say what it was that got him suspended by his University of Cincinnati team in 2010, but by breaking team rules, tight end Travis Kelce did not get to play alongside older brother OL Jason Kelce for the Bearcats during the elder Kelce’s final collegiate season. His brother, now a starting center for Philadelphia, helps Kelce’s cause along with a great set of physical tools. How much they can offset the drawbacks remains to be seen.
“There’s stuff that’s happened in my past that’s happened,” said Kelce. “I’ve dealt with it. I’ve learned from it and I’ve overcome everything that’s happened earlier in my college career. I just have to let teams know who I am as a person, that I’m willing to do whatever the team needs me to do and I’m all for the organization as a whole.”
Kelce said he’s provided the details of what got him suspended from his Cincinnati team to NFL clubs during interviews at the NFL Combine. According to ProFootballWeekly he did interview with Buffalo. He credits Bearcats head coach Butch Jones and tight ends coach Dave Johnson with helping him mature as a player through the year-long suspension.
The character examination was just one thing to overcome. More recently Kelce had to overcome sports hernia surgery in late January and get in good enough shape to work out for NFL clubs.
“It was a ruptured lower abdomen,” he said. “I tore it probably around Week 3. During the season, just played on it, played through it, got through the season. It was still nagging me during the Combine training. I just decided I needed to get it fixed.”
Kelce also has a pair of shoulder injuries in his past, though to his credit he’s played through most of the injuries he’s sustained.
“I think teams want to have a guy on their roster that’s going to keep playing knowing that the team needs them on the field,” he said.
The athletic tight end helped calm concerns about his physical talent when he performed for NFL scouts in early April. He clocked a 4.62 40-time, had a 35-inch vertical and broad jumped 10’4”. All good numbers for a 6’5” 255 pound pass catcher.
“Travis Kelce has size and ability,” said ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper. “What I like about him, he's got pretty good run after the catch ability. This is a kid when he snags that ball and gets in the open field with his size and his athleticism can do some damage.”
Kelce’s one year of production has also given teams pause. After being recruited as a quarterback he was transitioned to tight end. Following a pair of seasons in which he caught all of 14 passes Kelce blossomed pulling in 45 catches for 722 yards and eight scores. His receiving average of 16 was more fitting of a wideout.
Even better were the strong performances he put together in big games. Kelce caught two touchdown passes against Bills head coach Doug Marrone’s Syracuse team last fall in a 35-24 win against the Orange. And he went out on top in his final collegiate game posting a career-best 123 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the Belk Bowl against Duke with under a minute remaining.
“It was a seam route, I was running down the hash and I was about 20 yards downfield and I looked around and noticed I was open,” he said. “I turned over my shoulder and the ball was in my lap. From that point on, it was just adrenaline that took me to the end zone.”
Kelce realizes some scouts have questions. Is he a concern for an NFL locker room? Is he a one-year wonder? How soon can he contribute at the NFL level? But he’s vowed never to let it affect his belief that he can be a playmaker in the NFL.
“Mentally, I’m fine. I’m as confident as I’ll always be,” said Kelce. “Whether or not I get injured, I’m going to bounce back and I’m going to be ready to go. I’ve had injuries before and shown I can get through that and be able to excel and produce at a high level."
As for his inexperience at the position having only played it for two seasons, Kelce respects the fact that he needs to put more bulk and muscle on his frame.
“I need to get bigger, stronger,” he said. “Then just developing through reps. This is only my second year playing the position of tight end. I still have a lot to learn and I still need to develop a lot in the skill set of a tight end.”
“I think Kelce in the fourth round mix is very viable,” said Kiper.