Bears' Cole Kmet might have huge rookie year for this reason

Bears' Cole Kmet might have huge rookie year for this reason

Every year, football coaches use a classic – and eyeroll-inducing – cliché: [Insert rookie here] is going to do well because all he has to focus on now is football. Or: Football is his job, so it’s his only focus.

Usually, I hear that line and don’t think much of it. First: Not every young NFL player adapts to having football be his job. A lot of rookies struggle to develop the kind of routine and work ethic needed to make it in such a cutthroat league.

But also…for a lot of players in college, football was their job. They just didn’t get paid for it.

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As one former Notre Dame player told me years ago when I covered the Irish, he was caught in a nightly dilemma: If I study for class instead of studying my playbook or film, I’m behind, because the guys on the team we play that week are studying for football, not class. It’s hard to balance academics and football – and this was a guy who played at Notre Dame, which as an institution loves to remind everyone how seriously it takes its academics, after all.

Anyways, this brings me to Cole Kmet. And I sort of buy the whole “all he has to focus on his football” argument for him because he did have another focus while at Notre Dame: baseball.

“Think about how he had to juggle his time,” Bears tight ends coach Clancy Barone said. “I couldn’t do it. But I think Cole’s a guy that’s very focused, determined, and I think that once he has a chance to just do one thing -- I think that’s a great point. I think he will excel.”

Kmet pitched in 34 games over two years for Notre Dame’s baseball team, mostly coming out of the Irish bullpen. He saved eight games as a freshman in 2018 and two as a sophomore in 2019.

One moment stood out to former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long: when Kmet, in the same day, participated in a spring football practice and threw 2 1/3 innings to earn a save against Clemson.

“His potential hasn’t even been tapped,” Long said. “I think that’s the good thing. You’re getting a first-round talent in the second round and a guy who I think his football is still way ahead of him just with his youth and whatnot. Being able to devote all that time to one aspect. Schooling was obviously a very big ordeal, and baseball. Now he strictly gets to focus on football and training, and I can’t wait to see how far he progresses.”

MORE: Five Bears poised to improve in 2020

The bigger test for Kmet will be the steep rookie learning curve for tight ends – one made steeper by the lack of in-person and on-field springtime coaching due to the coronavirus pandemic. But part of what makes Kmet’s upside so exciting is that shift from a divided to singular focus.

And turning that singular focus into catches and yards just might, for Kmet, be more than lip service. 



Will the Bears field a top-20 fantasy football running back this season?

Will the Bears field a top-20 fantasy football running back this season?

Fantasy football leagues around the country are beginning to schedule their drafts, and as is the case in every league regardless of the scoring format, running backs will be a hot commodity.

The elite running backs -- Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley -- are easy picks at the top of Round 1. But finding value at the position in the next couple of rounds is where league titles are won. Will David Montgomery be one of those guys? 

According to the analytics experts at Pro Football Focus, he might be. PFF is projecting Montgomery to be a top-20 running back in PPR (points per reception) leagues.

Another 250-plus touches seem more than reasonable for Montgomery in 2020. This number, like most statistical thresholds, is fairly arbitrary, but there has been a strong history of success from players that manage to reach this “milestone.” Overall, only nine out of 153 RBs with at least 250 touches in a season failed to finish better than the PPR RB24. Yes, 2019 featured three of those players in Montgomery himself, Carlos Hyde and Sony Michel, but the potential for the Bears' featured back to continue to improve his efficiency and pass-game role adds a bit more of a ceiling for 2020.

This seems like a logical projection for Montgomery, who currently has an average draft position (ADP) of RB21 (49th overall). That equates to an early fifth-round pick in 12-team leagues.

Running backs who are being drafted just ahead of Montgomery are David Johnson (Texans), Melvin Gordon (Broncos), Chris Carson (Seahawks) and even Todd Gurley (Falcons).

Fantasy owners who draft Montgomery would be wise to target Tarik Cohen as his handcuff. He can be had much later in fantasy leagues; he's coming off the board as the 42nd running back and 145th player overall.

PFF says Roquan Smith is "still trying to find consistency"

PFF says Roquan Smith is "still trying to find consistency"

Rarely is former first-round pick Roquan Smith mentioned as a weakness on the Bears defense, but entering his third season in the league, Smith needs a breakout year to justify the Bears' decision to select him with the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

In fact, Pro Football Focus listed Smith among 15 players entering a prove-it year in 2020.

When he came into the league, Roquan Smith looked tailor-made for the modern NFL — a linebacker who excelled in coverage in college with the athleticism, instincts and feel for the game to be a difference-maker at the next level. Yet, the player we saw at Georgia has yet to really show up in the NFL with any degree of regularity. Smith has made a lot of tackles and missed relatively few (17 in 234 attempts), but his PFF grades reflect a player still trying to find consistency, particularly in coverage where he was so special in college. A top-10 draft pick in 2018, Smith enters Year 3 needing to show the Bears he can be a difference-maker on defense — not just another body who is a relatively solid tackler.

PFF's assessment of Smith is fair. It's actually kind of generous considering how bizarre his season was in 2019. While he's considered a critical starter in the Bears' defense, he isn't a star (yet) despite the fanbase thinking he is, or at least close to being one.

This may be a product of Chicago's post-traumatic draft-bust syndrome. Bears fans are so used to the team selecting first-round busts (Kevin White, Leonard Floyd and Mitch Trubisky), that even average play from Smith will feel like a breath of fresh air.

The reality, however, is that Smith is teetering toward settling in as a slightly above-average inside linebacker. And that's fine. But if he's going to ever become a star, it has to happen in 2020.