Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet is in a tough spot. After being selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the player some draft analysts labeled as a poor man’s Rob Gronkowski has failed to make anything remotely close to a Gronk-like impact. His slow start was expected as a rookie last season, but patience is beginning to wear thin with the former Golden Domer.
Kmet’s playing time is way up in 2021, logging 198 snaps through four games—he totaled just 83 snaps through the first four games of his rookie year. Still, Kmet’s increased role in the Bears’ offense hasn’t resulted in production as a receiver. In fact, he’s been nearly invisible. He has just 13 targets entering Week 5; he’s turned them into eight catches for 59 yards and he has yet to score a touchdown this year. Kmet’s numbers this season are tracking with his production from a year ago when he caught 28 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
No matter how you slice it, Kmet’s receiving stats aren’t what the Bears expected from a 6-foot-6, 262-pound player who ran a 4.7 40-yard dash and jumped 37” in the vertical jump at the NFL Scouting Combine. Is it possible Chicago’s projection was wrong?
The Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs wrote this synopsis of Kmet’s game prior to the 2020 NFL Draft, and it looks pretty spot on four weeks into Kmet’s second season:
“Kmet is a smooth athlete and, although not the most explosive player, displays a significant size advantage in the middle of the field. Kmet will need to continue to improve upon his blocking and balance at the point of attack but has the frame and functional mobility/strength to be a plus blocker with more consistency on this front. Should be a starter in a traditional TE role with some time to develop.”
A traditional tight end who needs time to develop? Yep, that’s Kmet in a nutshell. And maybe that’s OK. Sure, the NFL’s valuation of tight ends has tilted toward athletic playmakers in the passing game like Travis Kelce, but value remains in the tight end who can serve as an extra offensive lineman in the run game and pass protection. It’s especially true for a Bears team that features a patchwork offensive line.
Kmet was used as an extension of the offensive line in the Bears’ Week 4 win over the Lions in a game that featured 188 rushing yards for Chicago.
“It’s a big deal,” Kmet said of the tight ends’ role up-front. “As a group, I thought our entire team did a really good job with the blocking portion of everything. We’re more than willing to step up if that’s what we’ve got to do in order to win games.
“I thought we played a big part in that rushing attack Sunday, so we’re really happy with that. Looking forward to continuing to do that.”
Still, it hasn’t been all positives for Kmet as a blocker:
Despite the Bears rushing for those 188 yards, Kmet had his second-lowest PFF run-blocking grade of the season against Detroit (62.2) and has earned a concerning 52.2 season grade as a run-blocker. It’d be great to say Kmet’s receiving chops have to catch up to his presence in the run game, but that might be wishful thinking. He needs work in all aspects of his game right now.
Kmet is young. He’s only 22 years old, and tight end is a position that generally takes a little bit longer to develop in the NFL. The Bears have veteran Jimmy Graham to help offset Kmet’s learning curve, but at some point, Kmet has to prove he’s the long-term answer at that spot for Chicago.
A deeper dive into Kmet’s slow start suggests that perhaps a breakout is coming soon. Remember that low number of targets Kmet has drawn this year (13)? It’s actually the third-most on the team for an offense that’s attempted only 37 passes the last two weeks combined. The only two Bears with more targets than him are Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson, so an argument can be made that his lagging stats are more indicative of the offense’s woes as a whole than anything he’s doing wrong.
But the more excuses that are required to explain a player’s shortcomings, the more concerning that player becomes. The Bears don’t need to hit the panic button on Kmet just yet, but the more weeks that go by without him high-pointing a touchdown in the endzone or boxing out a defender for a key first down, the more troublesome his outlook becomes.