The Kansas City Chiefs feature the league's best tight end in Travis Kelce, whose record-shattering numbers are unprecedented in the century-long history of the NFL. He's in a category of his own when it comes to his position, and as we'll discuss a bit later, Kelce's statistics even rival the best wide receivers in the game today.
Depth is paramount in the NFL, however, and the Chiefs' ability to surround Kelce with capable complimentary players at the tight end position will be an area to watch heading into 2021.
With that in mind, here's a look at all six tight ends on the Chiefs' roster heading into training camp.
Kelce is already one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, plain and simple. He's the only player at his position to ever tally five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and his 1,416 receiving yards in 2020 were the most in a single season by a tight end in league history.
In fact, Kelce has been so good that his production goes beyond just his peers at tight end and rivals the top wide receivers in the game. Since 2018, Kelce has tallied the second-most receiving yards (3,981) and the fourth-most catches (305) of any player in the NFL. His 213 receiving first downs also rank second, trailing only Cardinals' wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, while his 31 receptions of 25+ yards rank sixth.
That point was exemplified further in Pro Football Focus’ recent rankings of the top 50 players in the NFL, which featured Kelce at No. 3 behind only Rams' defensive tackle Aaron Donald (No. 1) and Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes (No. 2).
He's one of the critical pieces that makes the Chiefs' offense work so efficiently, hauling in a franchise record 105 grabs last season and setting a career-best with 11 touchdown receptions.
The 31-year-old Kelce is more than just one of the best tight ends to ever play the game, as he's also one of the top pass-catchers in the NFL overall regardless of position.
The Chiefs selected Gray with the No. 162 overall pick in this year's draft after an impressive career at Duke in which he tallied 948 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 48 games. He finished his career on campus with the most catches by a tight end in school history, and according to Pro Football Focus, Gray dropped just three passes out of 107 catchable targets.
He has experience lining up all over the place - from the slot to in-line and even as a fullback – demonstrating a certain versatility that could prove valuable as the season gets underway. He also impressed during the Chiefs' offseason training program and already seems to be developing a rapport with Patrick Mahomes.
"Noah has been really good – I think he has a veteran-type skillset where he knows how to get himself open even if it's not exactly what the play is designed to do," said Mahomes back in early June. "He knows how to get his eyes back and how to get on the quarterback's timing."
He'll need to keep that up in training camp, but the excitement around Gray is warranted simply because of the flexibility that he can provide on offense.
According to the folks at Sharp Football Stats, Kansas City deployed two tight ends (and one running back) on 18 percent of their offensive plays last season – a 10 percent decrease from the year prior. The Chiefs also attempted 17 fewer passes out of two tight end sets when compared to the 2019 campaign. The addition of the six-foot-four, 240-pound Gray could potentially move those formation counts in the other direction.
If Gray - who tallied 237 snaps in the slot last season – can grow into a reliable pass-catcher on offense, defenses will have to adjust schematically if the Chiefs choose to feature Kelce and Gray on the field at the same time. Kansas City already features one of the best offenses in the NFL, and that flexibility would only open things up further.
Bell, who was on the Chiefs' Super Bowl championship team two years ago, is back in Kansas City for the 2021 campaign after spending last year with the Dallas Cowboys.
A six-year veteran, Bell caught 11 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown last season in Dallas and hauled in eight grabs for 67 yards back in 2019 during his first tenure with Kansas City. He's a capable receiver – as demonstrated by his 30-yard reception against Denver back in 2019 and his 8-yard touchdown grab vs. Houston in the playoffs that season - but where the six-foot-six, 252-pound Bell really excels is as a blocker.
In fact, Pro Football Focus rated Bell as the best pass-blocking tight end in the NFL last season.
Originally an undrafted free agent signee with the Baltimore Ravens back in 2018, Keizer joined Kansas City prior to the 2019 campaign and went on to spend the year on the Chiefs' practice squad. He then made the team out of camp last season, suiting up for all 16 games while catching six passes for 63 yards.
Keizer was also a regular on special teams, logging 220 snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, Keizer turned in the fifth-best special teams' grade on the roster in 2020.
The Chiefs signed Fortson, who stands at six-foot-six and checks in at 230 pounds, as an undrafted free agent out of Valdosta State University back in 2019. He's spent the last two seasons on Kansas City's practice squad and has also lined up at wide receiver during his time with the Chiefs, but he'll be listed at tight end heading into camp.
Fortson has yet to appear in a regular season game, but he showed off his unique athletic skills in the preseason a few years ago.
The 27-year-old Baylis has spent time with Houston, Indianapolis, Carolina, Green Bay and Arizona during his four-year career, appearing in 11 games (1 start) during that time. The bulk of his tenure as a professional has been on the practice squads for each of those respective teams, but he appeared in five regular season games for Arizona as recently as last season, contributing mainly on special teams.
The Bottom Line
The additions of Gray and Bell to the Chiefs' offense could pay some serious dividends in 2021, as Head Coach Andy Reid could potentially deploy formations that feature multiple tight ends on a more frequent basis. Nobody forces opposing defenses to adjust better than Reid, and having multiple tight end sets at his disposal is an exciting thought.
Additionally, don't overlook the competition between Keizer, Fortson and Baylis up at camp. The Chiefs featured four tight ends on the roster prior to Week 1 of last season, so it's very possible that one of these three makes the team out of camp in 2021.