Brian Kelly knows what a successful NFL tight end looks like before he makes it as a pro. At Cincinnati, Kelly coached Travis Kelce. At Notre Dame, he coached Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert.
And the guy the Bears just picked.
“I've had a number of tight ends that are doing exceedingly well and have been All-Pros in the NFL,” Kelly said. “Cole Kmet will be in line with all those guys.”
Since Kelly arrived in South Bend in 2020, Kmet is the seventh Irish tight end to be drafted. Not all have been successes (Troy Niklas, a second-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals, flamed out of the NFL after four seasons), but Eifert and Rudolph have each made Pro Bowls in their careers.
And Kelce, of course, is the among the best tight ends in the NFL and happens to have played for then-Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy a few years ago. Any line drawn between Kelce and Kmet feels incredibly tantalizing, right?
Kelly’s answer about Kmet in relation to those guys came from a question about a searingly hot take delivered by ESPN’s Mike Tannenbaum on the network’s radio broadcast of the NFL Draft on Friday night. If you missed it, here’s what the ex-Jets GM said:
“I think this is a shockingly poor pick. They have eight million tight ends and they have so many other needs. This blows me away. This is the worst pick of the draft. Are you kidding me? They overpaid Jimmy Graham, they overdrafted Adam Shaheen. Of all the other things they need to do, why with their first pick are they adding a guy who can't run? This is mind-boggling me to me. What does this solve?”
Beyond the lazy, overplayed trope about the Bears having a zillion tight ends (it could not matter less in late April!), his comments about Kmet’s speed were interesting given that Kmet ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. For a 6-foot-6, 262 pound guy, it's hard to see that as being anything but fast. I’m not sure how Tannenbaum arrived at “he can’t run” based on that and, you know, the film.
But it did lead to an absolutely perfect response from Kelly, who’s spent decades honing his skill at giving dismissively sarcastic answers in press conferences.
“I guess Mike Tannenbaum knows more than all of the NFL teams that have evaluated him,” Kelly said. “I coached him. So I don't remember Mike being at any of our practices as he ran down the middle of the field. He's got plenty of speed. He'll be able to utilize it against safeties and nickel matchups. So speed will not be the issue with Cole Kmet. He'll be able to use that speed.”
You might want to trust the guy who coached Kelce, Eifert and Rudolph on this one. Just saying.