SANTA CLARA – The Kansas City Chiefs employ an Olympic track team at the skill positions. At least that’s what it seems like with so many lightning quick parts of the pattern, who could combine to form one heck of a relay team.
Travis Kelce might never get the baton in that situation. He might not even be an alternate on the 4x100, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous as a receiving tight end.
He’s the best of this generation, certainly equal to 49ers tight end George Kittle as a receiver. Kelce was a second-team All-Pro behind Kittle this year after being named to the first team two of the past three seasons.
In short, he’s awesome. Kelce also adds another dimension to the passing game. He isn’t slow by any stretch, even if he’d never beat Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Sammy Waktins in a race.
He’s physical, quick and a human mismatch against linebackers and safeties alike. He’s someone the 49ers will focus on Feb. 2 in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
“The dude is a receiving threat for sure,” 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner said. “They like to put him in a lot of different positions to get him to catch the ball, and he knows what to do with it after he catches it. So I mean, he's a mismatch for sure. You don't really know who to put on him. You put a safety on him, he's a bigger body. You put a linebacker on him, he's shifty, he's fast. So he's going to be a challenge for us for sure.”
The 49ers, however, are used to covering elite tight ends. They did it often in the offseason and training camp dealing with Kittle – top units play the scout team during a regular-season practice week – when first units clash.
Kittle studies him as much as anyone looking for tips in the game tape, and respects Kelce’s game.
“I've been a fan of Travis Kelce since he's been in the league,” Kittle said. “I watched his tape when I was in college. Watch his tape now. I get his games every single week so I can watch what he does. He's definitely one of the best in the game at what he does, receiving, just finding open spots. I got to meet Travis last year when we played him at the Chiefs. Had a jersey exchange after the season and then I met him again in Atlanta during the Super Bowl. So we definitely know each other. He's awesome.”
Kelce could be a headache running over the middle, especially on third down. Kelce led the NFL with 1,229 receiving yards on 97 catches on 130 targets, with 66 receptions going for a first down.
Kelce also knows how good the 49ers have been this season. According to pro-football-reference.com, they allowed a league-low 552 yards to tight ends, on 66 catches during the regular season. They have also given up six touchdowns to tight ends.
That’s why Kelce’s pouring focus into finding ways to game prep.
“I’m working hard, trying to figure out how to beat the 49ers,” Kelce said. “That has been the mindset every day since we won the AFC championship game. We have two weeks to prepare for the biggest game of my life, and the clock’s ticking.”