The Kelce brothers have been in the NFL for a decade, but they really took the league by storm when they faced off in Super Bowl 57.
Since then, the popularity of both Travis and Jason has soared. The duo’s “New Heights” podcast has become one of the most popular player-hosted shows on the internet, while Travis’ relationship with Taylor Swift has become the favorite talking point of Swifties around the world.
Add in Jason Kelce’s runner-up nomination for People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” award, and the Kelces are omnipresent.
Still, it’s important to remember that each got to these heights because of their talent on the football field. Jason has been a Hall of Fame caliber center for almost his whole career; Travis is considered by some to be the greatest tight end in NFL history.
But were the two always this highly touted? Not exactly. In fact, both were lowly regarded recruits heading into college. They each developed well during their time at school to become star-level players in the NFL.
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Here’s what to know about the Kelce brothers’ college football careers and why neither ended up being a high-round NFL pick.
Where did the Kelce brothers go to college?
Both of the Kelce brothers played their college football at Cincinnati. Neither was a highly-touted recruit, but then-coach Brian Kelly saw enough in each to bring them aboard, Jason as a walk-on in 2006 and Travis a two-star recruit in 2008.
Each of the Kelce brothers spent five seasons at Cincinnati. Jason was there from 2006-10, playing four years for Kelly and one for Butch Jones. Travis was there from 2008-12 and saw most of his action playing under Jones.
Travis Kelce college stats
Travis Kelce’s college career wasn’t as prolific as one might expect considering he is one of the greatest tight ends of all time. There is a simple explanation for that.
Kelce didn’t play much during his first two years at Cincinnati. He redshirted in 2008 and then played sparingly in 2009, serving largely as a Wildcat quarterback in his limited action.
But just when Kelce was starting to earn more of a role in the Cincinnati offense, he was suspended for the entire 2010 season after failing a drug test. He stayed at the school and worked hard to win back Jones’ trust. He eventually did that and enjoyed his breakout during the 2012 college football season.
Below is a look at Kelce’s stats by year during his time at Cincinnati.
|Yards per catch
Kelce didn’t play in 2008 or 2010 because he redshirted his first year and was suspended in 2010. He also racked up 47 rushing yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, all of which came during the 2009 season.
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Jason Kelce college stats
When Jason Kelce first arrived at Cincinnati in 2006, it was as a walk-on linebacker. He was able to win a spot on the team eventually, but it came at a new position that they figured out during his redshirt season.
First, Kelce was moved to fullback. He was eventually moved to the offensive line. That was where he stuck during his college career, and that allowed him to eventually carve out a starting role.
Kelce played sparingly in 2007 before emerging as Cincinnati’s starting left guard in 2008. He spent two seasons at that position before shifting to center, which would eventually become his long-time home at the NFL level with the Eagles.
Below is a look at Kelce’s stats by year during his time at Cincinnati.
Kelce developed into one of the better offensive linemen in his conference and earned a second-team All-Big East nod in both 2009 and 2010. That helped to establish him as a legitimate NFL draft prospect despite his smaller frame.
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Travis Kelce draft
Speaking of the NFL Draft, both Kelce brothers were selected among their respective classes, but it was Travis Kelce who ended up being the higher selection.
The 2013 NFL Draft class was a weak one overall, but it was viewed to be deep at tight end. That — plus a rocky pre-draft meeting with the Cowboys — caused Kelce to last until the middle of Day 2, when the Chiefs selected him with the first pick in the third round of the draft (63rd overall).
That selection was notable, because it normally would have been a second-round value. However, two second-round picks from the 2013 draft were forfeited, as the Browns used one to select Josh Gordon in the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft while the Saints surrendered theirs as punishment for the Bountygate scandal.
Either way, the pick turned into a steal for the Chiefs. That’s no surprise considering Kelce had earned rave reviews during the NFL Draft process and even drew a Rob Gronkowski comparison from NFL.com.
Kelce has been a tremendous run blocker throughout his career for the Bearcats, but really elevated his game as a receiver in his senior season. He isn’t a tremendous athlete, but he does a lot of things very well. It’s a deep tight end class, but Kelce’s play suggests that he should be highly sought after.
Despite this, Kelce went behind Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, Gavin Escobar and Vance McDonald at tight end. He has emerged as the best of that bunch and has reached a similar plan to Gronk during his NFL career. Thus, NFL.com’s pre-draft comparison was an apt one despite the two possessing different overall skill sets.
While Kelce has admitted he was hoping to be selected earlier than the third round, he was ultimately happy that he was able to end up with the Chiefs and make a lasting impact on the team.
“The biggest thing is just taking advantage of those opportunities, it doesn’t matter what team you go to,” Kelce told the Kansas City Star before the 2023 NFL Draft. “You’re gonna have to mesh, you’re gonna have to kind of mold your game to whatever role you need to have in that team’s offense or defense, whoever’s getting drafted.
“It’s just, take advantage of that opportunity because I was so darn fortunate that I went No. 63 to the Kansas City Chiefs. I don’t know if it’d be the same career if I didn’t drop that far.”
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Jason Kelce draft
Jason Kelce was selected in the 2011 NFL Draft, as he finished his college career two years ahead of his younger brother. Jason’s success in the league may have actually helped Travis’ reputation during his NFL Draft process.
But the older Kelce had to prove himself to the NFL world. And his preparation for doing so was mixed. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash among offensive linemen at the 2011 NFL Combine (4.89 seconds) to put himself on the map.
However, there were two concerns that teams had about Kelce coming into the league. One was his weight, as he tipped the scales at just 280 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Kelce had also earned himself a bad reputation, as he discussed with Eagles general manager Howie Roseman on the “New Heights” podcast.
“What was my scouting report?” Kelce asked of Roseman. “What made you guys draft me? How many draft boards was I taken off of the moment I weighed 280 pounds (at the Combine)?”
Roseman responded: “I think it was that plus the combination of intense anger that you wanted to beat the bleep out of everyone within five miles from you at the time. (That) was at least the reputation.”
But just how bad was that reputation? Roseman recalled some discussions he had with scouts as they considered selecting Kelce.
“I do remember in the draft room, (scouts) were going, “I’m just telling you, he might fight half the team,’” Roseman said. “’And he really likes to party.'”
Still, the Eagles selected Kelce with the 191st overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. That sixth-round selection came just eight picks ahead of the famed Tom Brady spot, No. 199.
However, Roseman told Kelce the Eagles had him graded in the fourth round from a talent perspective. So, had Kelce been a bit less rough-and-tumble coming into the league, he could have made it to a similar range as his brother.
Even so, the fit in Philadelphia proved perfect for Jason Kelce. And in Year 13 of his career, he has little about which to complain with how things shook out.