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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end

Notre Dame v Northwestern

EVANSTON, IL - NOVEMBER 03: Cole Kmet #84 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish avoids a tackle by JR Pace #13 of the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half of a game at Ryan Field on November 3, 2018 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-5 ½, 255 pounds.2019-20 year, eligibility: A junior, Kmet has two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.Depth chart: Kmet is Notre Dame’s unquestioned top option at tight end.Recruiting: Choose your recruiting praise … Consensus four-star prospect, consensus top-five tight end in the class of 2017, rated the No. 3 tight end by

Kmet looked poised to step forward as an auxiliary threat in the passing game last season, creating a package based on size when joining Alizé Mack, Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool. A sprained ankle in week two halted those hopes for all intents and purposes. Kmet missed the next two games, but even that time off did not allow for the ankle to completely heal.

It is impossible to know just how much the injury limited Kmet throughout the season, but his 15 catches for 162 yards certainly left more to be desired, though he was not targeted much more often than that (19 times total).

If there was a defining moment for Kmet, it came at Northwestern, when he pulled in two passes in the red zone, getting knocked out of bounds at the 1-yard-line on the first and tackled at the 5-yard-line on the second. One cannot help but wonder if the ankle issue diminished Kmet’s burst or agility just enough to keep him out of the end zone.

2017: Two catches for 14 yards in 13 games.2018: 15 catches for 162 yards in 11 games, including one reception for 11 yards in the Cotton Bowl.

Partly due to his recruiting profile, partly do his overall composure and partly due to his showings in two consecutive spring practices, much is expected of Kmet.

“He’s going to catch a lot of footballs,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in mid-March. “He’ll be a guy we’ll actually game plan (around) and certainly look at how he touches the football each week. We didn’t do that last year.”

“Kmet will continue to rise to prominence in Long’s system. His combination of height and hands makes him an intriguing piece for a tight end-heavy offense. However, some caution needs to be exercised. Kmet looked solid in his freshman season and certainly impressed across the board this spring, but that is all a far cry from excelling in the fall.

“Kmet should contribute this season and take the lead in 2019, with or without Mack on the Irish roster, but he may not yet become an offensive staple even then. If his progression follows an understated rate, that day may come in 2019 or 2020. Part of that inevitable outlook traces to Notre Dame’s tight end reputation. They keep becoming NFL contributors, Smythe after Koyack after Niklas after Eifert …”

When Kelly says Notre Dame did not game plan around Kmet last year, he may as well be saying as much about the tight ends in general. Mack played well in his final season, but never such that the Irish focused on him for an afternoon. That should change this fall.

Kmet has good hands and an instinct for high-pointing a pass, not to mention decent speed. In other words, he has all the traits wanted from a tight end at a program with a 15-year track record of turning starting tight ends into NFL draft picks.

Mack’s final season featured 36 catches for 360 yards and three touchdowns. Kmet should top all of that, conceivably with ease. Projecting further than that requires faith in Kmet staying healthy, a leap considering he cut short his spring baseball season due to left (throwing) elbow soreness. That may seem a small injury, and it was, but it starts to hint at a longer trend when combined with 2018’s ankle troubles.

If Kmet reaches his ceiling this season, he may not return in 2020. Something along the lines of 50 catches for 600 yards would be enough to warrant NFL consideration. By no means would an early departure be assured, but it would not be a shock.

If Kmet returns in 2020, especially after a solid 2019, it should set him up for a star turn. The Irish will need a playmaker to emerge in the passing game after both Chase Claypool and Chris Finke use up their eligibility this season, leaving an opening for Kmet to earn Tyler Eifert comparisons.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end