The least surprising early development with Cole Kmet is that Bears head coach Matt Nagy already loves him.
“I have yet to trump him in a Zoom meeting on a question. I can’t trick him. He knows it all,” Nagy said. “I guarantee you -- and I’ll put it out there -- he will know this playbook inside out. That’s not going to be the issue.”
During the NFL Draft scouting process, it was impossible to find anyone who had a bad thing to say about the former Notre Dame tight end. Even the baseball scout that didn’t land Kmet loved him so much that he’s still very close with the family.
But what remains to be seen is how quickly Kmet can make the tough transition to the NFL field. There’s always an extra learning curve for tight ends and patience is needed.
“What he’s going to have to grow with is understanding the defenses in the NFL, understanding how strong a defensive end is that he’s going to have to block as a 9-technique, or a 7i technique on a blast play to the outside,” Nagy said. “It’s different, what the speed’s like, when the ball comes on you, when the coverage changes.”
The good news is that the Bears believe Kmet can be an immediate contributor in the passing game and the tape backs that assertion up. In evaluating college tape, it’s important to take into account a player’s toughest test and the fact that Kmet’s best tape came on the road at Georgia in 2019 is encouraging. In analyzing that tape (shown in the accompanying video), you can see Kmet’s ability to make himself a quick open target, especially when lined up in the “Y” position. This is a key for the Bears in 2020, especially if Mitchell Trubisky is the quarterback. A tight end is a quarterback’s best friend, in part because he’s often the closest available target. Without adequate tight end play in 2019, too many of Trubisky’s first and second reads – and most reliable options – were farther away, making it harder to read defenses and find completions.
Notable in that Georgia game is that Kmet was playing in his first game since breaking his collarbone in training camp. You would never know it. He has a knack for seeking out contact after the catch and not going down easy. He showed no hesitation with the collarbone against the Bulldogs. The tape also shows Kmet’s versatility to line up in the slot and find open spaces in the defense. His hands and catch radius were on display on a botched 4th-and-1 that turned into a touchdown when he intercepted a pass intended for his teammate behind him.
“We look at him as more of a ‘Y’ that can play ‘U,’” Nagy said.
From a pass catching standpoint, the only complaint I have is that Kmet sometimes lets passes come to him instead of attacking the football. This could be seen in the gauntlet drill at the NFL Combine. It’s a nit-picky criticism, but the defensive backs and linebackers are faster at the next level, so every inch matters. The good news is that is a coaching point that can be fixed.
The blocking will be the biggest adjustment for Kmet, as Nagy noted. The Bears believe he has upside in that area because he already plays with physicality and he’ll no longer be juggling baseball, as he was doing at Notre Dame. The want-to is there as a blocker and the strength can certainly follow.
Overall, the best comparison for Kmet is Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, a well-rounded “Y” tight end that has brought nothing but class and production to Minnesota for a decade now. If that’s what the Bears drafted at No. 43 overall last month, they’ll be thrilled.