Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce proved in 2021 that he’s still an elite tight end despite being 32 years old. But that doesn’t mean he’ll remain elite for the remainder of his career. That’s why it’s a good idea for Kansas City to have a succession plan for Kelce.
The defending AFC West champions already have young talent on the roster in second-year tight end Noah Gray and Jody Fortson. But if they want more of a surefire option to replace Kelce once he retires, PFF’s Mike Renner has a player in mind that the Chiefs can draft in 2023:
Georgia’s Arik Gilbert.
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“Travis Kelce isn’t a spring chicken — he turns 33 this fall, and his cap numbers start escalating rapidly thereafter,” Renner wrote on June 30. “Even if he does have more years in him, getting a talent like Gilbert in the fold to learn from Kelce is a long-term win. Gilbert was the highest-rated TE recruit ever, as he moves just like a wide receiver despite being 250 pounds. He’s had his fair share of off-field issues, though, that included missing all of last season for personal reasons.”
Gilbert was one of the highest-rated tight-end recruits in 2020 when he was at LSU, per PFF. During his freshman year at LSU, he caught 35 passes for 368 yards and 2 touchdowns, per Sports Reference. He transferred to Georgia in 2021, but off-field issues have forced him to be sidelined for the last two seasons. Although he has yet to show his ability on the field the last two seasons, Gilbert is no doubt incredibly talented.
Chiefs Could Trade ‘Big-Play’ Veteran if Rookies Impress
The Chiefs backfield is loaded with talent heading into the 2022 season, which makes it hard to determine which running backs will make the 53-man roster come September.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Derrick Gore, and Jerick McKinnon are the tenured Kansas City backs. The Chiefs added veteran Ronald Jones II during free agency, and also signed rookies Isiah Pacheco, Jerrion Ealy, and Tayon Fleet-Davis after the draft.
Although Edwards-Helaire, Jones, Gore, and McKinnon have the edge when it comes to making Kansas City’s 2022 regular season roster, that could change if one or more of the rookies show out this summer during training camp and the preseason.
If that were to happen, then what would the defending AFC West champions do with their tenured veterans?
Cutting any of the non-rookies seems like a waste, but shipping them away for compensation would be sound roster management.
Caleb James of Arrowhead Live broke down Kansas City’s backfield recently and projected what could happen if the running back room becomes crowded because one or more of the rookies shine during training camp.
“I would also not rule out the possibility of the Chiefs trading one of these players if the level of competition is good across the board,” James wrote on June 26. “The most likely candidate in my eyes would be Ronald Jones. He has the veteran experience and the open field ability that a team in need may be willing to trade a depth player or even a mid to late-round draft pick for his services. Veach traded Carlos Hyde right after camp in 2019 and acquired eventual starter Martinas Rankin at a modest cost. If there was a trade this year it would likely be for a depth defensive end product.”
If Kansas City wanted to trade Jones, it might be hard to find a suitor, especially early in the season when teams are still trying to figure out what they have on their roster for talent. However, there’s still a chance that some other team that would be interested in trading for Jones, who has proven to be a very capable producer out of the backfield and is on a very cheap contract.
The Chiefs signed Jones on March 26 to a one-year deal that can earn him up to $5 million. However, incentives aside, Jones is on the books with a $1.5 million cap hit for the 2022 season. So, if he didn’t pan out in Kansas City and the team did want to cut him prior to the regular season, the Chiefs could do so and only take on a minimal amount of dead money.
Pacheco ‘Dark Horse’ to Make KC’s Active Roster
There isn’t much room for any new face to make a name for themself in Kansas City’s backfield. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few players that will try to do just that.
Take rookie seventh-round pick, Isiah Pacheco, for example. As a Rutgers product, Pacheco isn’t entering the league with a strong collegiate resume. During his four years at Rutgers, he never accumulated more than 170 touches in a single season or 729 rushing yards, which were both career-highs during his sophomore season. This is a large part of the reason why he wasn’t drafted until Day 3 despite running a 4.37 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine and having several other traits that are coveted in an NFL running back.
Being drafted into an already-loaded backfield doesn’t help Pacheco’s chances of making an NFL roster, even if there is draft capital tied to him. But one NFL analyst believes he can beat the odds and make Kansas City’s 53-man roster.
KC Proctor of Arrowhead Pride explained why he believes Pacheco can make the Chiefs’ active roster come September.
“Pacheco, who will dawn number 10, was never greatly included in the Scarlett Knights’ passing game and there were concerns leading up to the draft about his abilities as a downfield receiver,” Proctor explained on June 20. “Whether or not he will clean up that part of his game and disprove naysayers is yet to be seen, but the way that he moves with the ball in his hands makes him an intriguing asset for the Chiefs’ screen game. He tends to try and break runs outside a little early, rather than allowing for blocking to develop in front of him, so maybe he could settle into a short pass-catching role with his apparent comfort working through space in the flat.
“Whether he becomes a receiving threat, earns a percentage of the carries out of the backfield, or is only around for depth on the offense, we will likely see him on the field in some capacity. If nothing else, as a spark plug for the special teams.”
Proctor then went on to explain that Pacheco could have a similar NFL trajectory to former Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
“With blazing 4.37 40-yard dash speed, seeing number 10 haul in punts and/or kickoffs would be reminiscent of Tyreek Hill’s early days in Kansas City,” he continued. “If that is to be Isiah Pacheco’s first role with the Chiefs, fans can only hope that he will experience a similar trajectory of success.”