In the past week, the 2013 tight end class got a massive flood of declarations: Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame), Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo (Stanford), Jordan Reed (Florida), and Gavin Escobar (SDSU). It’s a diverse and highly talented group, all of whom have their unique strengths and weaknesses. Cincinnati senior Travis Kelce (younger brother of Eagles center, Jason Kelce) might have the most complete skillset of them all, though. A 6’6” 260 pound sledgehammer with speed and strength, Kelce will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski as he goes through the pre-draft process.
Part of what makes Gronkowski such an impressive NFL tight end (and why Kelce compares favorably to him) is because he’s a strong, technically sound, and tenacious blocker, and the Bearcats use his talents in a number of ways in their run game.
Kelce shows the strength and technique to be a great inline blocker against defensive ends on the line of scrimmage. He attacks with a wide base, rolls hips through contact, and drives the defensive end downfield.
Cincinnati is running a Jet Sweep, a perimeter run to the slot receiver. Here, Kelce is lined up in the “wing” position off the line of scrimmage. Instead of firing straight off the ball at the linebacker, he needs to arc release, be an athlete and make a block in space on a moving target.
Kelce gets his head across the linebacker’s body and works his hips in an attempt to reach the linebacker. As the linebacker fights to keep his outside leverage and fight to the sideline, Kelce extends and drives him right into the ground.
Cincinnati calls a Weakside Isolation play, with Kelce lined up as the fullback and being asked to make the “Isolation” lead block through the hole to the playside linebacker. The center and right guard will combo-block, with one of them responsible for picking up the offside linebacker (depending on the direction of his flow). Everybody else fires off and base blocks the man in front of them except for the left tackle, who will “Influence” and pass set, drawing the outside linebacker upfield in a pass rush and widening the hole (as opposed to firing straight out at him and having him respond by setting the edge and constricting the hole).
Kelce makes the Iso block on the playside linebacker with inside leverage, getting a wide base then rolling his hips through contact to seal the linebacker off and drive him upfield.
Kelce is a big, fast inviting target that gets down the seam quickly (as pictured above). Somewhat under-utilized as a downfield receiver because of the passing limitations of his quarterbacks, most of Kelce’s production(45-722-8 TDs) came in the underneath passing game as an outlet receiver. His size, strength, speed, and nimble feet make him a bear to bring down after the catch.
On 3rd and 9, Cincinnati calls a Hi/Low concept, with Kelce running a Shallow Cross from the traditional inline tight end spot.
Kelce displays his catching radius by stopping his momentum and spinning around to adjust to a pass thrown high and behind him.
Determined to get the 1st down, Kelce lowers his shoulder and runs through the tackle. Kelce isn’t just a pure brute after the catch, though. He has the quick feet and stop/start ability to show some real creativity with the ball in his hands.
Kelce is running an out route against a safety in man coverage. He creates space for himself on the out-break by sinking his hips and pivoting in first, getting the safety to turn his hips and drive for an inside breaking route.
Once Kelce has the ball in his hands, he easily shrugs off the safety trying to make a tackle on him. He runs upfield, cuts inside of an over-pursuing defender, and makes it another 15 yards downfield before getting ridden out by three defenders.
One of the best parts of having a dominating receiving presence in the middle of the field is the attention he draws from the defense, opening things up for others. Here, the Bearcats have called an Anchor concept against Quarters coverage.
With Kelce drawing the attention of the strong safety, and two linebackers, the Post-runner crosses the free safety’s face and is left with nothing but grass in front of him for a touchdown catch.
Kelce's complete skill set as a blocker and receiver and his ability to line up almost anywhere on the field was the most valuable asset for the Bearcat offense this year, and they made great use of his talent. While he may have toiled away in relative obscurity in comparison to the underclassmen from legacy programs, make no mistake that NFL teams are salivating over what he can bring to an offense.