The Kansas City Chiefs have been blessed with not one, but two tight ends worth the “greatest of all time” conversation.
The Kansas City Chiefs have absolutely been spoiled with tight end talent for more than two decades. From 1997-2008, Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez dominated the gridiron, setting franchise records in receiving yards, receptions, and receiving touchdowns. When the Chiefs traded Gonzalez to the Atlanta Falcons, the tight end room became more pedestrian. That did not last for long, with Travis Kelce arriving in 2013.
Kelce is firmly the league’s top tight end, despite what advanced metric pundits try to spin. His peers acknowledge his position, evident by the success of Tight End University. Statistically, he is the best active tight end. He added a Super Bowl ring to his hand in 2019, while being one of Kansas City’s most important players during the team’s historic run.
But, even the best have to call it quits eventually. Kelce will turn 33 during the 2022 season, clearly in the latter half of his playing career. Kelce’s age can surprise people, as he did not enter the league until he was 24. But, time does remain undefeated against athletes. As Travis Kelce’s number of playing years rises, so do his stats on him.
Currently, Kelce has 704 receptions, 9,006 receiving yards, and 57 touchdowns in nine seasons. Here is where he ranks in important tight end statistics, amongst tight ends with at least 6,000 receiving yards:
- Receptions: 7th (704)
- Receiving Yards: 6th (9,006)
- Receiving Touchdowns: 9th (57)
- Receiving Yards per Game: 1st (70.9)
- Yards per Reception: 7th (12.8)
Kelce is poised to rise up career leaderboards, especially with one or two uber-productive seasons. He needs less than 1,000 more yards to be 5th, 104 more receptions to be 4th, and seven more touchdowns to be 6th on the corresponding leaderboards. All that can be achieved with another successful season, but further steps will need several more outstanding seasons. If Kelce wants to stake a claim as the greatest tight end ever, let’s look at some statistical leaderboards he needs to climb.
Amongst tight ends, surpassing Tony Gonzalez’s career numbers seems impossible. His 1,325 career receptions are nearly 100 more than second-place Jason Witten, and nearly double Kelce’s current number. However, Kelce could realistically rise to 3rd on the list.
Kelce averages 88 receptions per season, excluding his rookie year. If he recorded 88 a year, this is where he would place:
- 2022 – 5th (792)
- 2023 – 4th (880)
- 2024 – 3rd (968)
Now, getting higher than 3rd would take some luck and Kelce preventing wear-and-tear. In 2025, Kelce would be 36 years old, and approximately 250 receptions behind Witten’s 1,228 career number. That is a very steep hill to climb, even for Kelce. Barring any injury and head coach Andy Reid’s continued use of Kelce, there is little reason he should finish lower than third among tight ends.
Another stat, another extremely high bar set by Gonzalez. His 15,127 career receiving yards is 2,081 more than second-place Witten and is more than 6,000 yards ahead of Kelce. Kelce and Gonzalez were cogs in very different Chiefs offensive units, but Gonzalez’s three-year head start over Kelce really shows out in overall yards.
Kelce averages 1,125 receiving yards per season, excluding his rookie season. If Kelce recorded his average yards of him, this is how he would place:
- 2022 – 4th (10,131)
- 2023 – 4th (11,256)
- 2024 – 3rd (12,381)
If Kelce keeps producing at that rate, he would surpass Witten for second place after the 2025 season. That would be in the midst of his age-36 season. No NFL tight end has ever logged a 1,000-yard season past 35 years old. Not Witten, not Gonzalez, not one. Kelce is not a stranger to setting records though. He would have to break another record to reach a second on the receiving yards leaderboard.
Finally, a tight end record that Gonzalez does not own. The career receiving touchdowns leader for tight ends is none other than Antonio Gates, a very familiar name to Chiefs fans. His 116 touchdowns from him are five more than Gonzalez, and no other tight end has more than 92. This is a career mark that Kelce ranks relatively low on. Players like Shannon Sharpe, Jimmy Graham, and Greg Olsen all have more career touchdowns than Kelce, for now. Kelce is well within striking distance and could surpass Vernon Davis’s 63 career touchdowns during the 2022 season.
Kelce averages seven touchdowns a season, excluding his rookie season. If Kelce can keep that pace, this is how he would progress:
- 2022 – 64
- 2023 – 71
- 2024 – 78
The fact that it would take Kelce to play through the 2030 season, while maintaining his average production, to surpass Gates and Gonzalez makes the record even more staggering. Kelce could crack the top-five, needing to pass Witten’s 74 career touchdowns. But beyond that, there is no climbing. Fourth-place Graham has 85, and Kelce would tie him with average production through the 2025 season. Again, Kelce can do it, but the odds are long for him.
Kelce loves long odds though. It is something that runs in the family. He is a third-round pick out of lowly Cincinnati. He lost his rookie season to injury and did not really start his career until he was 25 years old. Kelce’s NFL career has been defying the odds, and reaching these career numbers will be just another mountain for Kelce to conquer.
Can Kelce break the top five in the three major categories? Sure, all are attainable if he continues to post his historical numbers of him. Never count him out. But, some records will never be broken, and Gonzalez will be the NFL’s best tight end ever, statistically. Kelce will do his best to change that though while trying to bring another Super Bowl to his Chiefs.