Fantasy Battle: JuJu Smith-Schuster vs Travis Kelce

Ian Brennan | Aug 12th, 2019

Welcome to another fantasy battles. I will evaluate two players who have similar ADP in 12-team PPR scoring. The two competitors in question will be Travis Kelce and JuJu Smith-Schuster. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, both players are being taken in the early second round. With a similar ADP, we will look at the reasons for and against taking both players and whom I value based on the points made. Kelce is currently being taken as the TE1 while Smith-Schuster is being taken as the WR7. In 2018, Kelce finished as the TE1 while Smith-Schuster finished as the WR8. Follow along to see the pros and cons of drafting one over the other.

Make sure to check out all of our other Fantasy Battles here.

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

Positives:

First things first, Kelce has a ceiling of being the TE1. He has done it for the last two years. Last year, with Patrick Mahomes as his quarterback, Kelce was able to produce enough points to make him WR9, if he were eligible. He has produced 83 or more catches in each of the last three years. Over the last two years, he has scored 18 touchdowns. At 6’5” 260 pounds, Kelce has elite route running for his size. 

There are quite a few weapons for second-year starter Mahomes to have success with this year; which is good news for Kelce. The Chiefs have many options at wide receiver and multiple options at running back, therefore, there isn’t one player the opposing defenses can take away without being burned badly by the other option. Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, plus the addition of speedster Mecole Hardman, will help Kelce find pockets in the middle and underneath defenses as they try to account for the overall speed of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Kelce also has great chemistry with Mahomes. It isn’t a secret that these two are good friends off the football field. They have attended multiple large national sporting events and have openly talked about their chemistry because of it. It was evident last year and they will look to build upon it for the upcoming season. It might not be out of the ordinary anymore for Kelce to average 100 receptions instead of his career average of 82 receptions a season. 

With Andy Reid and his offense becoming more explosive over the last three years, it is important to note that Kelce has been targeted more each season of his career. With the added targets, Kelce has also increased his season touchdown output each year since 2016.  With the Chiefs expected to have a below-average defense in 2019, Kelce will have plenty of opportunities to continue to improve his numbers.

There are not very many tight ends who can be as effective and dangerous as Kelce. When you take Kelce, you are taking the top-tier of the tight end position and will have an advantage over every team at tight end for the year. For these reasons, his ADP of 2.06 puts him right in the mix to be a top 24 scoring player outside of quarterbacks, and there is a precedent for him to do so, just looking at last year as an example.

Negatives:

There are not a large number of negatives when it comes to Kelce and his prospects. The first thing that comes to mind though is his antics on the field potentially causing him to get in trouble. It wasn’t long ago when Kelce threw a towel at the referee in disgust of a call and was tossed out of the game. These types of antics have caused several penalties that could be described as “bone-headed” mistakes.

The positive of the Chiefs having so many weapons can be described as a potential risk also. With so many options if a team chooses to take away Kelce, the Chiefs will not force him the football and instead look to exploit another match-up and could lead to ineffective weeks for Kelce. Entering the 2019 season, Kelce is healthy as of now, but keep in mind he had an issue with his ankle after the season that required surgery to clean it up. For these reasons, it is alright to push him down a round if you feel that there is a strong option at wide receiver or running back.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Positives:

The second player in this battle is Smith-Schuster and I don’t think that he has hit his ceiling yet. Over his career, he has finished as WR23 and WR8. That’s pretty impressive because, during that same time frame, his partner on the outside was Antonio Brown, who finished as WR1 and WR5 during that span. Despite not being the team’s number one receiver, Smith-Schuster produced excellent fantasy numbers. Brown is now with the Oakland Raiders leaving 168 targets for the Steelers to redistribute. That’s pretty incredible when you think about it, Smith-Schuster had 166 targets last year even with Brown in the fold. 

I don’t expect Smith-Schuster’s targets to rise in a drastic way, as those targets will mainly spread across the depth behind him. There is a good chance that Smith-Schuster will improve on his seven touchdowns from 2018, potentially leading to his first year of double-digit touchdowns as Brown’s 15 touchdowns last year need to go somewhere. Smith-Schuster is the main target for Ben Roethlisberger going into the year and has proved to be efficient; ranking tenth among receivers with 100 or more targets in catch percentage last season; finishing with a 66% catch rate.

The Steelers attempted 689 passes last year. This offense has gone away from the old school run game as the years have gone by and project to be similar this year. Smith-Schuster is the guy in Pittsburgh and has all the talent in the world to continue rising going into his third year.

Negatives:

This won’t be a long list of why you shouldn’t draft Smith-Schuster. However, Smith-Schuster needs a second and third option to step up and take some pressure off of him early and often to avoid double teams. They should have good options in second-year wide receiver James Washington, and free-agent addition, Donte Moncrief. They also expect great things from Vance McDonald and rookie Diontae Johnson. If the targets from Brown in 2018 can’t positively impact one of those options, Smith-Schuster will see a lot of double teams. Needless to say, Roethlisberger staying healthy is a big factor as well. His age and injury concerns could add up and force the Steelers into a bad option at quarterback.

Conclusion

There has to be a winner in a fantasy battle. Let me say, neither is a bad choice at their ADP. The thing that I look at is if you were to take Smith-Schuster at 2.03, could you get a shot at one of the other big-three tight ends in the third round? With Zach Ertz and George Kittle, currently being drafted at 3.08 and 3.10 respectively, the answer is yes. I believe JuJu has the makings to be a top-five receiver and I believe that Ertz and Kittle can finish close to Kelce in total points. Kelce is the bonafide TE1 but I have always surrounded my teams with elite options at wide receiver before focusing on my tight end. This round goes to Smith-Schuster by a slim margin because of the potential of still being able to add a potential TE1 in the third-round.

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