16 Days: Chiefs Tight Ends Will Be Key


November 12, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end

Tony Moeaki

(81) runs after a pass reception against Pittsburgh Steelers free safety

Ryan Clark

(25) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 16-13. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. Note: Every evening from now until July 26 – the day every Chiefs player is expected to report for training camp – we will countdown and discuss some of the more important questions for the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs. 

There was an interesting bit of information from ESPN’s Ron Jaworski last week when he was describing when new Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is most effective. Here’s what he said.

“Smith has been outstanding out of multiple tight end personnel over the last couple of seasons. No quarterback has thrown the ball more with three tight ends on the field. You don’t see that very often in today’s NFL.”

It’s probably not a coincidence then that John Dorsey and Andy Reid have been very active this year in finding tight ends both in free agency and in the draft. It would appear Smith is most effective in the passing game when the tight ends around him are also strong receivers. Vernon Davis made his career off of this fact.

We already speculated the Chiefs would start to use the tight end position more in 2013 because Andy Reid has a history of using tight ends in the passing game a lot. But with the way Jaworski broke down Smith and his suggestion later in his analysis that Smith’s best plays came on first downs with three tight end sets, maybe we are under estimating just how important the revamped tight end group is going to be for the Chiefs.

Dec. 23, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins tight end

Anthony Fasano

(80) makes a catch as Buffalo Bills middle linebacker

Kelvin Sheppard

(55) makes the tackle during the first half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The first signing of free agency for the Chiefs was Anthony Fasano, who is well regarded as a red zone receiving threat as well as a solid blocker. Last season Fasano was Miami’s touchdown receptions leader and was third in receiving yards and receptions.

In the draft the Chiefs selected Travis Kelce from Cincinnati with the first pick in the third round, KC’s second pick overall. Kelce is considered a physical run blocker who can make highlight reel catches in the passing game. You could spend a good thirty minutes on YouTube watching him crush linebackers and defensive backs in the run game and then turn around and make big plays in the in passing game. The talent is very evident.

Then there is undrafted tight end Demetrius Harris who has been turning heads all offseason.

"“He came in as a basketball player and he’s just gotten better and better every day. You see him out here making plays, I’m sure you guys noticed that. I’m proud of him for the way he’s worked. That’s not an easy transition.”Chiefs G.M. John Dorsey loved Harris’s potential and was eager to sign him after the draft, and the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Harris is now hoping to follow in the footsteps of Antonio Gates and go from college forward to NFL tight end. Reid said the Chiefs’ mantra with Harris has been, “Just learn,” and while there’s still a lot more for Harris to learn, through his first month with the team he has made a good impression.“He’s making the most of it so far,” Reid said of Harris."

And this doesn’t include hold over Tony Moeaki, the gifted pass receiver who has not been able to stay healthy long enough to make the impact in the passing game everyone thought he would when he was drafted. Still, even in an injury-shortened career, Moeaki is the only other Chiefs pass catcher outside of Dwayne Bowe to have at least 1000 yards receiving since 2010. Even with the loss of playing time Moeaki is one of only 11 tight ends to have at least 1000 total receiving yards and average at least 12 yards per catch since 2010. A healthy 2013 and Smith starting at quarterback makes one wonder if he could be the biggest surprise for the Chiefs in 2013.

The upgrade in tallent at tight end meshes with what Jaworski considers to be the strength of Alex Smith. Smith works well out of the play action and is very efficient at find the short and medium ranged targets. Kansas City’s best formation right now may be one with three tight ends, Bowe at wide receiver, Jamaal Charles in the backfield. This speaks both to the talent addition at tight end but also the lack of talent at wide receiver.

Oct 20, 2012; Toledo, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats tight end Travis Kelce (18) is tackled in open field in the first quarter against the Toledo Rockets at Glass Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

This brings us to one of the key points of the 2013 season: Kansas City Chiefs tight ends absolutely have to produce in the passing game if the Chiefs are going have a successful offense this season.

Outside of Bowe the Chiefs have nothing at the wide receiver position. Donnie Avery signed as a free agent in March and KC still has former first round pick Jonathan Baldwin in the mix, but to assume either one is anything better than a third wide receiver right now would be a stretch. Smith is going to need Fasano, Moeaki, and Kelce to produce in the passing game in order to open up more opportunities for Charles and Bowe. Asking Smith to go downfield with Avery or Baldwin would not be an optimal thing to ask as this point.

If the tight ends can take away defenders from Charles and Bowe and open up space then Kansas City should be in line for an increase in offensive productivity. This means one, if not two, of the three of them has to go for 700 yards or more in the receiving game.

2012 was the first year since 2007 that an Andy Reid offense did not finish as top 10 scoring offense in the NFL. This was due in large part because of injuries and Michael Vick‘s turnover issues. But if go back to 2011 when Reid’s offense scored the eighth most points in the NFL you’ll notice the importance Reid places on being able to spread the ball around.

In 2012 LeSean McCoy rushed for 1309 yards and caught 315 yards worth of passes in 321 touches (273 rushing, 48 receiving). DeSean Jackson had 961 yards receiving, Jeremy Maclin had 859, and Brent Celek had 811. Jason Avant just missed the 700 yard benchmark with 679 yards. Though the skill sets are different, Kansas City has the big play wide receiver – the DeSean Jackson – in Dwayne Bowe and the big play running back – LeSean McCoy – in Jamaal Charles. The problem right now is the Chiefs do not have the supplemental weapons to take the Jeremy Maclin/Brent Celek/Jason Avant roles.

Over the last three seasons the Chiefs have had just three players not named Charles or Bowe produce a season of at least 700 yards from scrimmage since 2009: Steven Breaston (810 yards) and Dexter McCluster (844 yards) in 2011, and Thomas Jones in 2010 (1018 yards). Only three players over four seasons. Yikes.

While no one on the Chiefs roster can be Jeremy Maclin, there could be some opportunities for the Chiefs to have two players produce like Brent Celek.

This is why there is so much pressure on the tight ends to produce because the best chances of those roles being filled will come from that position group. A combination of Baldwin and Avery could eat up the yardage someone like Avant accounted for Philadelphia for but there are a lot of plays that need to be made in between Bowe/Charles and Baldwin/Avery tiers. We know that under any circumstance Bowe and Charles will “get there’s” in terms of yardage and touchdown, but if the Chiefs are going to score enough points they will need Moeaki, Kelce, and Fasano to help them move the ball down the field.

The Chiefs are a better team this year than they were last season, no doubt, but the way this season goes may end up depending 0n how well Moeaki, Kelce, and Fasano play. The more production the Chiefs get out of their tight ends, the more likely the Chiefs are to improve their offensive output.