We're less than a month from training camp, and with the annual pilgrimage to St. Joseph nearly here, we're going to continue examining every position group on the roster over the next several weeks in anticipation of the 2022 campaign.
Here's a look at what we've covered so far:
We'll continue with tight end, where the Chiefs currently employ seven players: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Noah Gray, Jody Fortson, Matt Bushman, Mark Vital and Jordan Franks.
Here's a closer look at each tight end on the roster.
It's not hyperbole to say that Kelce is already among the greatest tight ends in NFL history. He's the only tight end in league history to amass six 1,000-yard seasons during a career, and to make matters even more impressive, he tallied each of those 1,000-yard campaigns consecutively. He's also one of only 19 players in NFL history – regardless of position – to compile such a streak.
Additionally, Kelce has arguably been the most dominant pass-catcher in the NFL since that streak began. His 7,269 receiving yards in that span are the most in the NFL while his 565 receptions rank second to only the Raiders' Davante Adams (581).
Kelce is 32 years old, but his track record of success – not to mention his palpable intensity throughout offseason workouts – suggests he's far from done.
Bell returns for his third season (2019, 2021-22) in Kansas City after catching nine passes for 87 yards in 16 games (5 starts) last year. His main contribution on offense was as a blocker, where he earned the ninth-best run-blocking grade among tight ends with at least 220 blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Bell was on the field as a run-blocker for 196 of his 229 total blocking snaps.
Additionally, one of Bell's greatest attributes last season was his ability to motion under center, take the snap and pick up short yardage on designed "sneak" plays. A former quarterback at the University of Oklahoma, Bell was a perfect 4-for-4 in terms of picking up a first down on those plays during the regular season last year. He's a big man at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, and because those plays had him motion under center (while quarterback Patrick Mahomes was in the shotgun), defenses were rarely prepared to stop it.
Bell also contributed 155 snaps on special teams last season, which ranked 10th on the team and fifth among returning players.
A fifth-round selection (No. 162 overall) in the 2021 Draft, Gray went on to appear in 16 games (1 start) for Kansas City last season. He hauled in seven receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown in that time, but his primary impact was undoubtedly on special teams.
Gray ranked fourth on the team in terms of special teams' snaps with 278, and the three players ahead of him in that area – linebacker Dorian O'Daniel, wide receiver Marcus Kemp and safety Armani Watts – are no longer on the team, making the 23-year-old Gray the Chiefs' most significant returning special teamer.
Before joining the Chiefs, Gray left Duke as the school's all-time leader in receptions (105) by a tight end. He racked up 948 yards and eight touchdowns across 48 games (22 starts) while with the Blue Devils, dropping just three of 107 career targets. Now heading into his second season as a professional, we'll see if Gray earns a larger opportunity to show what he can do on offense for Kansas City.
Perhaps the most intriguing storyline of this group heading into camp, Fortson seemed on the verge of a strong season in 2021 before an Achilles injury ended his campaign prior to Week 7. Fortson, who made last year's initial 53-man roster following a strong offseason, recorded touchdown receptions in back-to-back games before getting hurt during a 27-yard catch against Washington. It was simply a case of bad luck for Fortson, who paid his dues as a member of the practice squad for two years before earning a spot on the active roster in 2021. He's healthy now, however, and looks poised to pick up where he left off last season.
Fortson is a unique weapon as a 6-foot-6, 240-pound playmaker with the athleticism of a wide receiver. In fact, Fortson was listed as a wide receiver until he made the switch to tight end ahead of the 2021 season. That combination of size and athleticism makes Fortson a unique problem in terms of coverage, and at only 26 years old, he still has plenty of room to build on the immense potential that he flashed last season.
Bushman signed a Reserve/Futures contract with the Chiefs early in the offseason following a brief stint on the practice squad during the 2021-22 playoffs. He spent most of last season on the Las Vegas Raiders' practice squad, seeing action in two games (11 offensive snaps).
The BYU alum stands at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds.
A unique story to follow, Vital is a former professional basketball player who signed with Kansas City's practice squad in early September and remained there for the 2021 season. Vital's football career came on the heels of a brief tenure in the NBA, as Vital – a four-year starter on Baylor University's basketball team – spent time with the Portland Trailblazers' Summer League team in 2021. He elected to pursue a career in the NFL soon after, signing with the Seattle Seahawks' practice squad before later joining Kansas City.
Vital, who stands at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, signed a Reserve/Futures contract with Kansas City early in the offseason.
Another Reserve/Futures signee back in January, the 25-year-old Franks appeared in six games for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018 after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He most recently suited up for the Cleveland Browns, appearing in one game last season. He checks in at 6-foot-4, 246 pounds.
It's worth mentioning that Franks flashed a handful of times during Organized Team Activities (OTAs), making several impressive grabs.
The Bottom Line
Kansas City has kept four tight ends to begin the year in each of the last two seasons, so there's recent precedent that indicates they could do so once again in 2022. The roster math this year will be particularly interesting, however, as the Chiefs currently feature a crowded backfield and could conceivably hold on to as many as five running backs heading into Week 1. For what it's worth, the last time the Chiefs did that – which was in 2019 – they only kept three tight ends. Every team is different, but that scenario is a good example of the decisions General Manager Brett Veach and Head Coach Andy Reid will have to make following training camp.
The impact this group has on special teams will also factor in to how many tight ends ultimately make the team. As previously noted above, Gray (278) and Bell (155) each manned significant roles for Assistant Head Coach / Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub in 2021. Prior to getting hurt, Fortson was involved quite a bit on special teams, as well.
Simply put, a lot will go into the decisions that ultimately take place in late August, but the good news is that Kansas City features plenty of talent at tight end heading into 2022.