There’s a lot of hype around Cole Kmet here in Chicago. There also aren’t a lot of tight ends who put up big numbers as rookies.
It can be a little hard to square those two things, then, with an eye on how much Kmet — the 43rd overall pick in last month’s draft — can actually help the Bears’ offense in 2020.
“You see the personality, the size, the strength, the makeup, how do you not get excited about that?” coach Matt Nagy said. “I am, and I’m looking forward to his future.”
Another bit of insight to heighten those expectations: What former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long told me his message to teams was when they inquired about Kmet last year.
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“It’s one of those deals — you’re going to regret not taking him and you’re never going to regret taking him,” Long said. “Very rarely have I been around kids that check all the boxes off like he does in every aspect of his game, off the field, that you’re getting.
“I think he’s an absolute steal for where they got him in the second round.”
But then there’s the reality that tight ends picked in the first two rounds of a draft in the last decade have averaged, as rookies, 27 catches for 306 yards and three touchdowns. That feels like less than the kind of production the Bears need from Kmet as their top “Y” tight end in 2020.
So what are fair expectations for Kmet?
Let’s maybe narrow our focus here a bit. Only 10 tight ends — Kmet included — have weighed at least 260 pounds and ran a sub-4.7-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Meaning: Kmet’s size and speed is rare.
Let’s take five of those tight ends to see what a best-case rookie year for Kmet might look like:
Jermaine Gresham (21st overall, 2010): 52 catches, 471 yards, 4 TDs
Rob Gronkowski (42nd overall, 2010): 42 catches, 546 yards, 10 TDs
Jason Witten (69th overall, 2003): 35 catches, 347 yards, 1 TD)
Ben Troupe (40th overall, 2004): 33 catches, 329 yards, 1 TD
Jimmy Graham (95th overall, 2010): 31 catches, 356 yards, 5 TDs
Gronk is, of course, the outlier here with touchdowns. But it’s not impossible to see Kmet having somewhere between 40-50 catches for 400-ish yards and four or five TDs — a lot better than the overall top-picked rookie tight end average.
But there are four guys we left out of the group above, none of whom made a significant impact as a rookie: Vance McDonald (55th, 2013), Schuylar Oordt (undrafted, 2011), Brad Cottam (76th, 2008) and old friend Kellen Davis (158th, 2008). Oordt never played in the NFL, so let’s leave him out of this.
McDonald (8 catches, 119 yards, 0 TDs), Cottam (7 catches, 63 yards, 0 TDs), and Davis (no catches) didn’t make an impact in the passing game as rookies. Those guys, then, are the absolute worst-case for Kmet in 2020.
As long as Kmet is healthy, it’s unreasonable to think he’ll have a reception total in the single digits. Adam Shaheen he is not — he’s way more polished than the last tight end the Bears took in the second round.
But that doesn’t mean Kmet isn’t still a project of sorts. After all, his attention at Notre Dame was split three ways between football, baseball and academics.
“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 it’s just — I can’t wait to see how far he progresses.”
This could be a good or a bad thing. It’s a good thing if focusing only on football allows Kmet to quickly reach his potential. It’s a bad thing if he’s more of a project than the Bears might’ve thought because he had other commitments in college.
(I tend to think it’s more a good thing than a bad thing.)
How Kmet assimilates to the NFL as a blocker, too, will drive how much playing time he gets. The Bears like Kmet’s upside in that area, which is notable here in that they didn’t draft an offensive lineman until the seventh round. Having a reliable blocker at the “Y” would be a major boost to the Bears’ run game.
And just getting Kmet on the field will be critical for the overall health of the Bears’ offense. The Bears were in the bottom five of 12 personnel (two tight ends, one running back, two receivers) usage in 2020; both the Eagles and Chiefs were in the top 5. Having the right players in Kmet and Graham would help add a dimension to this offense it’s been missing since Nagy’s arrival.
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So that’s the bare minimum for expectations for Kmet in 2020: Just be able to be on the field. Of course, getting on the field means holding his own as a blocker and being a threat as a receiver.
It’s not easy. Not many have done it as rookies. But Nagy is convinced Kmet can be one of the few.
“The ceiling for him is so high,” Nagy said. “Because, No. 1, he wants it. All these (Hall of Fame guest) speakers that we talk to and listen to, that are really great at the positions they played in different sports, the one thing is they’ve got that ‘want.’ They got that little different thing that makes them great.
“He has that.”
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