INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a lot to like about Cincinnati TE Travis Kelce.
He has an NFL pedigree, as the younger brother of starting Eagles C Jason Kelce.
He improved by leaps and bounds on the field as a senior, averaging a wideout-like 16 yards per catch and grabbing eight TDs after catching only 14 passes previously in two seasons combined.
He has the requisite size for the position, runs with power and has unique athletic skills, having even run some “Wildcat” plays under former coach Brian Kelly.
He comes from a school that has produced recent TE draft picks in Brent Celek and Adrien Robinson.
But Kelce has some serious issues he must face. The Combine will be a huge test for him considering his two biggest strikes against him: questions about his character and health. In the 2013 Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide, an unnamed NFL evaluator called Kelce “a trainwreck character-wise” and said his baggage will push him down until the third round at least.
Kelce was suspended for the entire 2010 season for breaking team rules on the eve of the Sugar Bowl that year, and as a result, Kelce was not able to play at all during Jason’s senior season. The team did not reveal what the incident was at the time, and Kelce wasn’t shedding any more light to media members, but he said that his past transgressions taught him that he had some growing up to do.
A strong series of interviews at the Combine could help do that and Kelce knows what he hopes to get out of the process from that standpoint.
“Just let them know that I’m a high-character guy,” Kelce said. “There’s stuff that’s happened in my past that’s happened. I’ve dealt with it. I’ve learned from it and I’ve overcome everything that’s happened earlier in my college career. And to let them know who I am as a person, that I’m willing to do whatever the team needs me to do and I’m all for the organization as a whole.
Kelce said that UC head coach Butch Jones and TE coach Dave Johnson helped him mature and get through the incident. Had he not, Kelce likely would not have been a part of the team in 2011 and beyond. He said sitting through the 2010 season without playing was a ferocious challenge but one that ultimately strengthened him.
His senior season started a bit slowly, but Kelce broke out with a 101-yard game against Fordham that included a 78-yard TD. Three weeks later, he caught two touchdowns in a 35-24 win over ascending Syracuse. And he saved his best for last: a 123-yard game against Duke in the Belk Bowl, including a game-winning 83-yard catch and run with 44 seconds remaining.
“Talk about a way to go out. It was unexpected,” he said. “It was a seam route, I was running down the hash and I was about 20 yards downfield and I looked around and noticed I was open. I turned over my shoulder and the ball was in my lap. From that point on, it was just adrenaline that took me to the endzone.
“For us to go out like that, especially with the coaching staff that we had and the amount of support we had going into it, it was an all-around team effort. That play itself was a milestone for me personally, but for the team to get a win in that condition is definitely something special.”
His health is a lesser concern than the character stuff, but still something NFL teams will be investigating. Kelce suffered a sports hernia in the third game of his senior season, rupturing the lower part of his abdomen, but missed no time.
“My health is on its way,” he said. “It was still nagging me during the combine training. I just decided I needed to get it fixed. I’m about a month out of surgery, and I’m feeling pretty good. Nothing is hurting; nothing is annoying or anything like that. It’s just stiff and I’ve got to get back into shape.”
Kelce hopes that teams see that as a sign of strength, playing through such a tough injury.
“I’ve played through a lot of injuries,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’ve been hit with a shoulder injury twice. I played through that in the 2011 season. (I) haven’t had a problem with that since. And being able to play through this, yeah, I think teams want to have a guy on their roster that’s going to keep playing knowing that the team needs them on the field.”
PFW has learned that Kelce was scheduled to meet on Friday with the Chiefs, Raiders, Bills, Saints, 49ers, Patriots, Dolphins, Packers, Cowboys and Rams. Absent from that list: the Eagles and Browns, his brother’s team and his hometown team, respectively. That, however, is not significant; teams meet with players throughout the draft process at different venues: all-star games, private workouts, Pro Days, and so on.
Kelce hopes to be able to run through some kind of work for scouts at the Bearcats’ Pro Day on March 13.
“I will be in attendance,” he said. “At this point, I’m not 100 percent sure what exactly I’ll be doing but I know that I will be in attendance. I will be there (and) if I won’t be able to do anything, I’ll be able to root on and cheer on my teammates and give them all the support they need and deserve.”
Kelce has needed support himself, and a lot of it has come from Jason. Not only did he go through the Combine process in 2011, but he also slipped to the sixth round in the draft. Travis said that experience taught his brother a lesson: Not to get too down if things don’t go exactly as planned.
“That was one of the things that he told me,” Travis said. “He told me, ‘Just enjoy this experience. Your experience is going to be different than mine.’
“For me even to see him excel from the Day One stages that my brother’s been through, that itself has been motivation enough.”
Now Travis Kelce’s motivation is to convince NFL teams that’s he’s not a risk — character-wise, injury-wise or any wise.
“(Jason) just told me enjoy the process,” Travis said. “Have fun with it, but at the same time tell everybody the truth, tell everybody what you think of yourself and what you think of the whole process itself.
“Mentally, I’m fine. I’m as confident as I’ll always be. Whether or not I get injured, I’m going to bounce back and I’m going to be ready to go. I’ve had injuries before and shown I can get through that and be able to play at a high level and be able to excel and produce at a high level.”