Super Bowl LV is undoubtedly highlighted by the instant-classic quarterback matchup between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, but that isn't the only 'passing the torch' type storyline in this game. Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski is considered among the best tight ends ever to play the position, but perhaps the most productive tight end right now will be on the other sideline: Travis Kelce.
"You know he can run and catch but he's such a smart football player," said Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles. "He has a lot of savvy. He can figure things out whether you're singling him, doubling him or playing zone. He'll be in the right place at the right time. He plays with a high motor. He understands the game and he has a great rapport with the quarterback. He's probably one of the best I've seen since I've been coaching, and this is probably my 20th year in the league right now. Other than playing against him, you just marvel at watching him play because if there's a big play to be had somehow he finds a way to get open and that says a lot about the guy."
Bowles' players have echoed the same sentiments. Kelce is a 'marvel' as Bowles called him because of the way he plays tight end. It's a lot like how Gronkowski does, to be sure, but Kelce grew up playing quarterback and was recruited to the University of Cincinnati at the position. It was there that he ended up making the switch to tight end, but those quarterback roots haven't totally left him.
It probably plays a role in how good of a route runner he is. As a quarterback, you know where you want your receivers to be and that's now translated to Kelce as a receiving tight end. According to Next Gen Stats, Kelce runs more routes from out wide and in the slot than he does in tight like the position traditionally calls for. In fact, he was aligned wide on 37.5% of snaps including the playoffs, which is the highest among tight ends with a minimum of 50 routes.
That undoubtedly aids in how he's able to have such an incredible connection with Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The pair connected 126 times this season and Kelce amassed 1,643 receiving yards, thereby breaking Gronkowski's previous single-season record for a tight end in the process.
And it's nothing new for Kelce.
He and Bucs' wide receiver Mike Evans are the only players with 1,000 or more receiving yards in each of the last five seasons and Kelce is the first tight end to do it. His utilization as more of a receiver presents a ton of matchup issues for defenses because who do you stick on him? Kelce is 6'5 and 260 pounds. Can you really match him up with a 6' 190-pound corner? What about a linebacker? Well, Kelce has speed and linebackers aren't usually split out wide outside the box in coverage. A safety? That's usually the best bet for a tight end but you better be able to go vertically because Kelce can – and will.
That's all for the Bucs' defense to figure out and Kelce isn't taking any level of it lightly. Whether the Bucs choose to put a corner, a safety or even a linebacker on Kelce, the 31-year-old tight end knows to expect the unexpected.
"[Todd Bowles] does a very good job of kind of mixing up the play calls and with that, you have to be ready for everything on every single snap and credit to their players also to be able to take in and absorb everything that Coach Bowles is doing with the defense," said Kelce. "Being able to understand the intentions of the play call and then on top of that being able to play free because those guys aren't thinking about much – they're flying around and getting to the football.
"Their front seven gets praised but I do have a lot of respect for their secondary and how they play football – how physical they are in terms of at the line of scrimmage within five yards. They do an unbelievable job messing with guys' routes. That's going to be one of the keys of the game is trying to get off of press coverage, trying to get off the line of scrimmage so that we can stay on time, so that Pat doesn't have to feel the pressure of the front seven that is second to none in the National Football League."
View pictures from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl LV media day.