Examining how Travis Kelce’s ‘wild child’ style seems to always get him open (2024)

LAS VEGAS — The irony is that Travis Kelce performs his best on the biggest stage, much like, say, the most popular pop and country music singer-songwriter you can think of.

He is in the conversation, in the days before Super Bowl 2024 against the 49ers, as the Greatest Tight End in NFL history. If the Chiefs capture their third Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium, it will most likely mean that Kelce has made the kind of impact that would go a long way in enabling him to state his case as the Tight End GOAT.

We marvel and wonder how he gets open, and how often he gets open, seemingly whenever he needs to get open.

“He has little man’s feet and moving skills in a big man’s body,” ESPN analyst and former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum said. “So he’s like the best of both worlds. He can create separation as a route runner, but he’s a huge man.”

But there is so much more to Kelce’s game.

“For me, it’s just the ability to think on his feet, literally,” NFL on CBS analyst Charles Davis told The Post, “like when you watch him run routes. And then of course the play turns into something else. How many times have you seen him run a route, feel what’s out there, feel what his quarterback needs or where his quarterback’s headed, put himself in a place to be that bailout safety net and probably primary target anyway? Whatever you want to term it, he does that.

“I remember a coach many, many years ago talking about the best receivers have an amazing feel for space, for understanding spacing, understanding where everyone else is, understanding where the proper spots are, and to me that’s him in his essence.”


See Mahomes freestyle. See Kelce freestyle along with him.

“I think it’s their ability to understand when to do something that’s not drawn up,” Davis said. “He understands the offense, he’s not just out there making it up and drawing it up in the dirt. He knows the entire offense, how it’s designed, and then he finds where the holes are, where the spots are, where the places are that he fits without disrupting other people’s routes.”

Tyler Dunne runs golongtd.com and wrote a book called “The Blood and Guts: How Tight Ends Save Football.” I asked him to define the essence of Kelce’s greatness.

“I think what makes [Mike] Ditka special, [Jeremy] Shockey, [George] Kittle, Gronk [Rob Gronkowski], these tight ends, and some of the best tight ends ever, they like to have some fun off the field, they kinda push the envelope and they’re kind of wild child,” Dunne said. “They somehow are able to harness their personality and the way they attack life to this position where you’re hitting people for a living and you’re also catching the ball downfield with everything on the line.”

Kelce, 34, has the kind of telepathy with Mahomes that Gronk had with Tom Brady.

“The other part of it is the rapport that he has with Mahomes,” Dunne continued. “We all see it, but it’s just crazy how Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady had something special and everybody loved to make fun of Gronk for being like this caveman, but he was way smarter than I think anybody really realized, even in the classroom, too. He could kinda run the routes that a lot of Patriot receivers couldn’t. He knew where to turn on those option routes, and he knew what Brady was thinking, and I think you kinda see that same kind of connection in Mahomes and Kelce and then some. There’s so much improvisation, so much second reaction.”

Andy Reid will find mismatches for Kelce.


“You’ve got one of the best offensive minds pushing the buttons and knowing how to scheme this player up into a 1-on-1 matchup,” Dunne said, “and then so much of it is Mahomes being Mahomes and just plays break down and they turn it into a game of basketball, and they just kinda know the crevices in the defense to sneak into whether it’s Mahomes running around or Kelce looking back at Mahomes and knowing exactly where he’s going to scramble to. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but I think that’s probably it more than anything. They just kinda turn football into a game of basketball so often. There’s no way to train for that or practice for that until you see it.”

Former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi has witnessed the evolution of the tight end position.

“We had great receiving tight ends before — Kellen Winslow, there were others, John Mackey — but this recent vintage, they’re such a feature part of the offense, they create mismatches in the secondary ’cause they’re so big,” Accorsi told The Post.

In 2005, Accorsi signed 6-foot-6 receiver Plaxico Burress to help provide a new dimension for Eli Manning.

“Aside being a breakaway receiver, he gave Eli a big target,” Accorsi said. “I call ’em aircraft carriers, these 6-5, 250-pound tight ends, they’re a safety net for these guys. If they’re covered by a 6-2, 6-3 linebacker, with their athletic ability, they can still make catches, and you see that all the time with Kelce and Gronkowski. They’re smart, they know how to get open, and even when they’re not open, they make plays. And they’re tough to bring down once they catch the ball. … [Sam] LaPorta … there’s a whole new batch of ’em.”

Accorsi lists Kelce and Gronkowski at the top in this tight end generation. Old-timers will cite former Colts Hall of Famer John Mackey. Tannenbaum ranks former Falcons Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez (1,325 receptions, 15,127 yards, 111 TDs) as the greatest of all time over Kelce — “Just a little bit of a better athlete” — but unfortunately for Gonzalez, he won only one playoff game over his 17 seasons with the Chiefs and Falcons and was 30-286-4 TDs in seven postseason games. Kelce (907-11,328-74 TDs) is 156-1,810-19 TDs in 21 postseason games. Of course, Gonzalez never got to play with Mahomes. Gronk (521-7,861-79 TDs) was 98-1,389-15 TDs in 22 postseason games.


Kelce is 22-257-2 TDs in three Super Bowls, with two rings. Gronkowski was 29-364-5 TDs in five Super Bowls, with four rings. In these three playoff games, Kelce is 23-262-3 TDs. He gets Taylor Swift’s vote.

“He’s among the best that I’ve ever seen,” Accorsi said.

Examining how Travis Kelce’s ‘wild child’ style seems to always get him open (2024)
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