When is it time to officially Stop Drafting Travis Kelce?

No, this analysis isn’t all about Travis Kelce, but it basically is since we know we are all thinking it. If you have been reading this series before for running back (click here for RB article) and wide receivers (click here for WR article) you know the drill.

1. The years sampled were 2011-2020 for the tight end position only
2. The scoring format used for this analysis is full PPR
3. The analysis benchmark we will be discussing today is 50 targets. Every tight end ages 21-37 had to have at least 50 targets to qualify
4. When conducting the analysis, it was important to have a baseline for targets as many tight ends who don’t make it typically only play 3-4 years in their early 20s…..yada yada yada we used the same veribage from the previous articles so go check them out. 

Tight End Age Analysis

Like we always promise we will give you the high-level data first and you can take it for what it is worth. The first chart will includes the following:

Age – The tight end (TE) age for that season
Total TEs – Total tight ends (TE) who played at that age over that past 10 years
Total TEs 50 – The number of tight ends who hit 50 targets in a season
% who hit 50 – This is the percentage of tight ends who played at that age who received 50 or more targets in that season at that age
Total Points and PPG – These are the points and PPG in full PPR that these tight ends had at that age on average who hit 50 targets in a season

AGE Total TEs Total TEs 50 % who hit 50 Average of Points Average of PPG
21 9 1 11.10% 94.7 5.9
22 43 11 25.60% 132.1 9
23 116 21 18.10% 125.9 9.1
24 163 27 16.60% 122.3 8.5
25 145 42 29.00% 142.3 10
26 139 31 22.30% 145.9 9.9
27 106 31 29.20% 150.4 10
28 88 27 30.70% 140.3 9.5
29 76 21 27.60% 141.8 9.5
30 52 14 26.90% 163 10.6
31 41 15 36.60% 158.2 10.4
32 25 11 44.00% 135.9 9.4
33 19 9 47.40% 137.2 8.7
34 13 5 38.50% 145.2 9.8
35 8 4 50.00% 164 11.3
36 3 2 66.70% 190.9 13
37 4 4 100.00% 143.9 9

*3 tight ends played at age 38 and 39 and none reached 50 targets

Unlike the wide receivers and running backs the tight end “peak” is up for discussion. If we look at sure volume of how many tight ends hit 50 targets and had a solid PPG avg. you could argue that ages 25-27 is the peak. Another argument could be made for age 30 and 31 who have a higher PPG and total points while still producing on average at least one 50 target tight end per year. Then of course we could say that the age that has the highest PPG and points should be considered the peak. That distinction doesn’t come until age 35 and 36. Granted only some of the best tight ends of all time make it to this age, but the 13 PPG at age 36 should make us confident that aging tight ends can still produce at a high level.

 

The Aging Veterans

      Tony Gonzalez   Antonio Gates   Jason Witten   Ben Watson   Average  
  AGE   Points PPG   Points PPG   Points PPG   Points PPG   Points PPG  
  21   81.8 5.1   N/A N/A   75.7 5   N/A N/A   79 5.1  
  22   133.1 8.3   N/A N/A   221 13.8   N/A N/A   177 11.1  
  23   226.9 15.1   74.9 5   177.7 11.1   N/A N/A   160 10.4  
  24   267.3 16.7   255.4 17   145.4 9.1   3.6 3.6   168 11.6  
  25   200.7 12.5   259.1 17.3   252.5 15.8   97.1 6.5   202 13  
  26   182.3 11.4   217.4 13.6   200.2 12.5   131.3 10.1   183 11.9  
  27   222.6 13.9   227.4 14.2   209 13.1   110.9 9.2   192 12.6  
  28   269.8 16.9   178.4 11.2   248.2 15.5   54.9 3.9   188 11.9  
  29   180.5 11.3   242.7 15.2   203.2 12.7   99.4 6.2   181 11.3  
  30   193 12.9   188.2 18.8   231.9 14.5   162.3 10.1   194 14.1  
  31   246.2 15.4   183.8 14.1   206.1 12.9   90 6.9   182 12.3  
  32   261.8 16.4   144.8 9.7   164.3 10.3   117.1 7.3   172 10.9  
  33   205.7 12.9   188.2 11.8   166.3 10.4   53.6 3.6   153 9.6  
  34   171.6 10.7   223.1 13.9   154.3 9.6   45.6 2.9   149 9.3  
  35   209.5 13.1   149 13.5   149 9.3   192.5 12   175 12  
  36   234 14.6   149.8 11.5   N/A N/A   N/A N/A   192 13.1  
  37   216.9 13.6   79.6 5   139.9 8.7   137.2 8.6   143 9  
  38   N/A N/A   73.3 4.6   31.9 2   87 5.4   64 4  
  39   N/A N/A   N/A N/A   N/A N/A   34.3 3.4   34 3.4  
                                   

*N/A = Did not play at that Age

To address the question that only the best tight ends keep playing into their late 30s, we decided to show the PPR total points and points per game for the four main players who played to that age over the last decade. When breaking down the data by player we don’t get a one size fits all narrative that all tight ends either fade or remain steady when heading into their late 30s. Tony Gonzalez was the only exception in regards to seeing his total points and PPG improve in his late 30s vs. his 20s on average. Jason Witten was the only player to see a consistent decline from age 31-38. Antonio Gates on a PPG basis improved in his age 34 and 35 campaigns vs the prior two seasons and had his best season in his 30s for total points at 34. Finally, let’s not overshadow the fact that Ben Watson had his 3rd best season of his career at age 35.

Conclusion

For aging tight ends hitting 35 didn’t stop them from posting consistent TE1 seasons as the 149 points at age 35 for Witten and Gates would still be good for top 10 while Watson and Gonzalez age 35 seasons would have been top 5 in 2020.

This brings us to Travis Kelce who will be entering his age 32 campaign. It is safe to say that Kelce has plenty of years left in the tank and seems to be on a similar career path as Tony Gonzalez as he continues to see some of his best years in his 30s. This analysis along with being tied to Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid (mostly Mahomes and Reid) probably makes Kelce an underrated dynasty asset as he should be able to continue his dominance for another 3-4 years.

Sources: Razzball.com, FantasyPros, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Football Outsiders and FFToday.com