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Draft Strategy: Building a Winner Around Travis Kelce

Travis Kelce - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

Drafting a tight end anywhere in the first round may just not feel right to you. If you don’t play in a tight end premium format like the Fantasy Football Players Championship (FFPC), it is going to be very hard to pass on a top-flight running back or a superstar wide receiver in round one. You have to start at least two RBs and WRs at each position, and usually you only have to start one tight end.

But even though it may not feel right to take Travis Kelce in the first round, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to do it. You just need to be prepared well enough to build out your team comfortably after the first round. When you consider these numbers from 2020, it’s hard to pass on Kelce at all: He scored 312.8 Fantasy PPR points last year, which was only bettered by three other wide receivers. The third-highest scoring TEs last year, Robert Tonyan and Logan Thomas, totaled 176.6 points. Kelce averaged 20.9 fantasy points per game, almost five more than George Kittle, who was third in FFPG at the position. Mark Andrews, who was fourth in FFPG at TE, averaged 12.2. Drafting Kelce is comparable to landing a top-level WR at the thinnest position in fantasy football, and gives you a unique advantage.

If you are a very savvy fantasy player, you are well aware of how Kelce soars above most of the rest of the field at TE and the distinctive edge he provides. Yet you still may ask yourself, as many other players will, what is the best range to take him in the first round, and how should you build your team around him after that?

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The Kelce Considerations

I could make a strong case to take Kelce as soon as third overall in a 12-team PPR league. Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook simply cannot be passed up, as McCaffrey is the ultimate volume back and Cook may have the purest upside at the position. After that, if you can prepare yourself for the reality that many other top-rated RBs will fly off the board before you pick again, it’s not crazy to take Kelce soon after the top two RBs are gone.

There are perceived negatives about every other top RB after those two. Derrick Henry may regress a bit, Alvin Kamara might too after a QB change. Ezekiel Elliott must prove he can bounce back and Jonathan Taylor has to become a more productive pass-catcher. Saquon Barkley’s health is an obvious concern. Those are all narratives on those No. 1 RBs, yet all of them still justify high overall selections for many other reasons. But Kelce comes with no concerns at all, he is a complete “peace of mind” pick with no apparent negatives to pick at. He provides total comfort and a huge edge strategically.

If you want to make a first-round move on Kelce, it’s not really a bold one. What you must come to grips with is that you are likely going to miss out on a top-10 RB. I put this strategy to the test.


The Kelce Experiment

Using RotoBaller’s new Mock Draft Assistant, I slotted myself for the fifth pick overall in a 12-team PPR format with two RBs, three WRs and a flex in the starting lineup. I do consider Kelce as early as third in my own drafts, yet I have never taken him sooner than fifth in any mock I have done otherwise so far this preseason. You can also perform this experiment yourself from any other slot in the first round using the Mock Draft Assistant and you can get very similar results.

I took Kelce fifth and I watched as a total of 10 RBs went off the board until I was back up at 20th overall. I was glad to see Antonio Gibson, my ninth-ranked RB, was still available. If he was not, Joe Mixon, who I have at 12, was also still available. So after making the Kelce pick I discovered there was still a pretty good chance I could land a back-end RB1 in the second round. Of course, every draft is different, but in a worst-case scenario I will still end up with one of my highest-ranked RB2s. Top WR1s such as Stefon Diggs and Allen Robinson were also available.

At 29th overall in the third round, I was still able to take my No. 13 RB, J.K. Dobbins as the RB2. The WRs had dropped off to the point to where all of the usual No. 1 types were gone, but Kelce gives me WR1 numbers at TE, so that was a welcome trade-off.

In the next two rounds, I took CeeDee Lamb and Kenny Golladay as the top two WRs and Curtis Samuel in the seventh. I picked Michael Carter as my flex RB in the sixth and Justin Herbert as my QB1 in the eighth. I believed I had performed a successful experiment. After picking Kelce in round one, I went all-in on the best available RBs with the next two picks and really liked my WR trio while also nailing one of my top-five QBs.

To clarify on my WR outlooks, I believe Golladay is a very strong WR2 candidate and Samuel is headed for the best season of his career yet. Even if you disagree, I could have taken either of Cincinnati’s top-two WRs or Brandon Aiyuk over Golladay and there were still many viable WR3 candidates on the board when Samuel was available. I do like him a lot to break out, though, and made an aggressive move there.  Overall, I was quite pleased with the results.


The Kelce Approach against Experts

To further confirm that drafting Kelce as early as fifth overall would work well, I attempted to execute the strategy in a CBSSports.com experts draft with the same formatting and scoring. After I selected Kelce fifth overall, I was back on the board after 12 RBs were gone. Once again, I landed Gibson, and also had Dobbins, Chris Carson and David Montgomery in my queue. I still had a shot at landing at least one of my high-end RB2s, as I have Dobbins, Carson and Montgomery ranked 13th through 15th.

I still could have taken Carson or Montgomery in the third and been very satisfied with my RB duo to start. Yet I pivoted and went with Terry McLaurin, as I believe he will have a big year catching the ball from Ryan Fitzpatrick, the most aggressive thrower of his career so far. I also took a WR in the fourth round, as I could not pass on Mike Evans as a WR2. Miles Sanders was available, but I am not too enthused about him, as I don’t view Sanders as a reliable RB2.

I was very content to land Myles Gaskin in the fifth round, as I believe he is underrated and very versatile. I could have also opted for Chase Edmonds, yet I was very happy to land the Jets’ Carter again in the sixth round. I love his upside as a dual-threat flex play and have taken him often in the fifth or sixth round in my early mock and truly competitive drafts.

My breakout WR target, Michael Pittman Jr., was my seventh-rounder, and I ended up with Herbert again in the eighth.


The Kelce Conclusion

I ultimately may not truly go for Kelce until No. 7 overall in many of my drafts. But if you are willing to be even more aggressive than that, as my efforts here have indicated, the approach can definitely work from the third spot and beyond in the first round. I have illustrated that you can construct the core of a very good starting lineup around Kelce.

Even if you are not on the same page as me on specific targets, there is more than one route to building around Kelce, executing an ideal draft plan, and walking away knowing you have the biggest advantage at the worst skill position in fantasy football.

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