Believe it or not, Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet is something of a lightning rod among Bears fans. There’s a contingent within the fan base who believe Kmet is nothing more than an average starter at a position Chicago should be looking to upgrade, while others cite the fact that he has developed in his first two seasons, and at just 22 years old, continues to have a very high ceiling moving forward. The truth likely lies somewhere in between for the former 43rd overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. Kmet did take a significant step forward in 2021 after a disappointing rookie season that produced just 28 catches for 243 yards and two touchdowns. He more than doubled his reception total this year (60) and did the same with his receiving yards (612). And while he didn’t find pay dirt in 2021, he was an every-game starter who proved—at the very least—that he’s a competent NFL tight end. What Kmet isn’t, however, is a big-time playmaker. If we’re being honest, not many tight ends are. What makes players like Travis Kelce and George Kittle so special is the playmaking element of their game, and guys like them are few and far between. But that doesn’t mean the Bears have to settle for a tight end who’s just ‘good enough.’ Before we get too deep in the weeds here, and for the sake of my mentions on Twitter (@BryanPerezNFL), let me make one thing clear: I’m not advocating for Kmet to be replaced as the Bears’ primary starter at tight end. I’m encouraged by his development; he has top-tier NFL traits; he’s proven he can handle the pro level even at a young age, and tight ends tend to take a few years to reach their true potential. Giving up on Kmet right now would be foolish, but failing to add competition to the roster would be too. Chicago isn’t going to use free agency to add that competition. If they sign a high-priced player on the open market, they’re essentially promising him the starting job. A player like Mike Gesicki isn’t going to sign with the Bears to be Kmet’s backup. He won’t sign to compete with Kmet for reps, either. He’s going to sign with a team that will use him the same way the Miami Dolphins did, if not in an even more prominent role. Is a player like Cincinnati Bengals free agent C.J. Uzomah worth paying the expected $10.7 million per year in average annual salary that he’s likely to command on the open market (according to Spotrac)? The answer seems like a pretty easy, ‘no.’ That leaves the 2022 NFL Draft as the most likely way in which the Bears will add to their tight end room, and this year’s Senior Bowl will be a showcase for several of the top prospects at the position. The headliner in the group is Colorado State’s Trey McBride, whose blend of traits reminds me quite a bit of Baltimore Ravens star, Mark Andrews. He has similar size and athletic ability and has the kind of coordinated body control and soft hands to be a dominant pass-catcher at the position. He wins on all three levels of the passing game and has a chance to move into the late-first-round discussion with a big week in Mobile and a strong showing at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. Obviously, that all but rules him out as a potential Bear, but if he slides to No. 39—Chicago’s first selection—it’s not entirely out of the realm of logic that the Bears will at least consider the possibility. It remains highly unlikely, however, that Chicago will use their top draft pick on a position that isn’t their biggest need. So, if you’re a McBride fan, sorry… you’re out of luck. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be another tight end who catches the eyes of Bears scouts at the Senior Bowl. Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely is a player who’s tailored to fit what Chicago needs to complement (or even replace) Kmet in passing situations. Likely had more than 900 yards and 12 touchdowns for Coastal Carolina in 2021 and looked every bit the part of a hard-to-cover 240-pound athlete running routes. While not the fastest tight end in the country, he moves like a player who's 50 pounds lighter once he has the ball in the open field. His after-the-catch ability is the kind of skill set that’s missing from Kmet’s game, and in a way, has become something of a prerequisite for players who want to be in the upper tier at the position. Likely is a prospect who I value as a third-rounder at this point in the process, and with the Bears owning the 71st overall pick, he’d be a great value selection and an addition to a passing game that’s expected to look very different next season with a new head coach and offensive coordinator. Another pass-catching tight end who’ll draw attention at the Senior Bowl is Nevada's Cole Turner. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound tight end has developed from a 193-pound high school wide receiver to the tall and long target he is today. His frame isn’t ideal for teams who want their tight end to put their hand in the dirt and get physical in the run game, but that’s not what Chicago would be looking for anyway. Instead, Turner is more like Gesicki, although don’t expect him to test like the freakish athlete Gesicki was at the NFL Combine. Gesicki’s combine numbers haven’t translated to the NFL field; he’s a quality pass-catcher but far from the monster his testing scores suggested he’d be. I think Turner’s speed and explosive measurables will match his on-field play, which is plenty athletic enough to profile as a legitimate target at all three levels of the passing game in the pros. And the good news about his likely average athletic scores is that he should be available on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft. The Bears don’t have a fourth-round pick, which is probably the range Turner will come off the board, but they are slated to pick in the fifth round. Turner, if he’s still hanging around, would make a lot of sense there. What’s the big takeaway here? With a new regime coming to Chicago, players who were picked—even in the early rounds—by the former general manager and coaching staff aren’t nearly as safe as you might think. If the Bears’ next general manager values a prospect like Turner or Likely or even McBride highly enough, there won’t be any loyalty to Kmet or his development. If they think one of these Senior Bowl prospects can add more to 2022’s offense than Kmet’s managed to over the last two years? They’ll make the pick and not think twice. Kmet is a fine player. He’ll have a fine career, and it may very well run its entirety in Chicago. But don’t assume tight end isn’t an area the Bears will investigate in the 2022 draft. There’s room for improvement, and there are several prospects in this year’s class who can offer it.
- Sep 20, 2023