Travis Kelce is often discussed as the best tight end in the NFL today. That qualifier, with all due respect to George Kittle and Darren Waller stans, is not up for debate. Rob Gronkowski is the only player that has the resume to match Kelce's, but Gronk left his best days behind him in New England.
Among tight ends, Kelce stands on the mountaintop alone. And if he retired today, at age 31, he'd still be a surefire Pro Football Hall-of-Famer.
Just for fun, here are the career numbers for every active tight end with over 200 receptions, sorted by career fantasy points:
Despite only being 12th in career games played on this list, Kelce ranks fourth in career fantasy points, first in points per game, second in receptions, third in yards, and fourth in touchdowns. With plenty of high-caliber seasons left in the tank, Kelce is primed to rocket up all of these standings and should become the NFL's active leader among tight ends in every major statistical category.
An even more obvious display of his dominance among his contemporaries is looking at individual seasons. Here are the top 20 seasons by any active tight end in the league:
I've conveniently highlighted Travis Kelce's last five seasons among the entries in this leaderboard. While Jimmy Graham's 2011 and 2013 were dominant and Rob Gronkowski's record-setting 17-touchdown season in 2011 was historic, those seasons were a decade ago and those players are no threat to repeat those performances in 2021. Kelce is in the prime of his dominance and no other active tight end should even be in the conversation for the best at the position.
The more interesting debate revolves around Kelce's Hall of Fame worthiness. Let's start off with a chart of Kelce's career numbers compared to the nine tight ends in the Hall of Fame:
While these standings are sorted by career receptions (where Kelce is already fourth among Hall of Fame tight ends), the key metric is the points per game (PPG) column, where Kelce is first by a pretty healthy margin over Kellen Winslow Sr. and over two points per game better than current-GOAT tight end, Tony Gonzalez. Yes, the league plays at a faster pace with more passing offenses than there used to be, that much is true.
But even accounting for the new era of football, Kelce ranks third over the last five years in receptions, third in receiving yards and sixth in receiving touchdowns among all NFL players. No other tight end in football even ranks in the top 10 of those categories. He could qualify as a Hall of Fame wide receiver if he had to.
If Kelce hung up the cleats at age 31, he would be a no-doubt Hall of Famer. If he plays through his age-37 season as Gonzalez did, Kelce would now be only a little bit beyond the halfway point in his career. He probably won't keep racking up 1,000 yards every season until he's 37, but he's a safe bet to be on top of all of the record books by the time he calls it a career. The gold jacket will just be a formality.