FOXBORO, Mass. — The Kansas City Chiefs’ top receiver isn’t a receiver. Not technically, at least.
Though Tyreek Hill is one of the NFL’s most dangerous big-play threats, Travis Kelce leads Kansas City in both receptions (68) and receiving yards (923) this season from his tight end position.
Only 10 NFL players have more catches than Kelce in 2019. Only eight have more yards.
“Call Kelce whatever you want, he’s one of the best receivers in the league,” New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday as his team prepared to host Kelce and the Chiefs on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. “He’s their leading receiver. You can put him up against any receiver in the league and statistically, he’ll match up with anybody you want to put him with, basically, the last five years.
“You can call him whatever you want to call him. (The Chiefs) have four receivers out there and a back, basically, on a lot of plays. … They’re hard to match up against.”
That view was evident when the Patriots visited the Chiefs in last year’s AFC Championship Game. For the first three quarters of that game, covering Kelce was cornerback J.C. Jackson’s primary responsibility. When Jackson allowed a touchdown and was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, star corner Stephon Gilmore switched onto Kelce and held him without a catch in the fourth quarter.
Gilmore, New England’s top cover man, also matched up against tight end Zach Ertz at times during the Patriots’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles last month. He’s said he doesn’t mind these matchups because Kelce and Ertz are slower than the wide receivers he typically covers.
Belichick said Kelce’s route tree is more varied than almost any NFL pass-catcher, making him a difficult cover for linebackers and safeties. Kelce has lined up in the slot on 27.5 percent of his snaps this season and out wide on 28.2 percent, according to Pro Football Reference.
“He’s got every tight end route,” Belichick said. “He’s got every receiver route. There’s not a route he doesn’t run. … He’s good at everything. He’s big. He’s fast. He’s good after the catch. He does a really good job of gaining leverage on defenders. He also creates space for other players, as well. He’s a smart player — very smart. He’s good at all of it. He’s a hard guy to tackle when he gets the ball.