Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet hasn’t emerged as quickly as the team may have hoped after selecting him in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, but his somewhat slow development as a pro isn’t entirely shocking. Tight ends tend to have a slightly longer learning curve, and if Week 9’s outing against the Pittsburgh Steelers is any indication, Kmet may finally be turning the corner.
Nine games into the 2021 season, Kmet has the same number of catches he had in all of 2020 (28) and already has a new career-high in yards with 284. He has yet to score a touchdown after having two as a rookie, but it feels like a bundle of scores could be coming soon.
In Monday’s night’s game against the Steelers, Kmet looked like the baby-Rob Gronkowski he was compared to by some analysts in the run-up to the 2020 draft. His usage was way up (eight targets) and he flipped those opportunities into six catches and 87 yards, a productive day by any standard for a tight end.
It’s obvious that Kmet is building trust with quarterback Justin Fields. He’s been targeted 25 times over the last four games, totaling 19 catches for 203 yards. Spread over 17 games, it’s a rate of production that equals 863 yards—and if he starts getting into the paint, he’ll be one of the more productive tight ends in a league that’s in need of guys outside George Kittle (49ers), Darren Waller (Raiders), and Travis Kelce (Chiefs) to step up at the position.
“He’s taken that next step,” coach Matt Nagy said of Kmet. “He’s at a point where I think you’re starting to see some more targets go his way. He’s making big catches. He’s a big-body guy. He’s a physical tight end, doing great in the run game. I love where he’s at. I love his mentality, and I think he’s going to keep growing.”
Kmet’s outing on Monday night wasn’t just the best box score of his career. He scored an elite grade from Pro Football Focus—90.7—and ranked second among all tight ends in Week 9. His 87 yards were the third-most among tight ends, too. It’s the kind of performance that revives Kmet’s projection as a critical piece of the Bears’ future plan, especially for an offense that needs to continue building and adding weapons around Fields. If they got it right with Kmet—who’s just 22 years old—it’ll be a big box checked for the foreseeable future.
The Bears should move on from veteran Jimmy Graham in 2022, paving the way for Kmet to be the unquestioned go-to guy at the position. Graham’s role in 2021 has already been reduced to nearly nothing, but he’s still been on the field for 127 snaps. They’ve been wasted reps, to be honest, as he’s drawn just five targets all year. Once he’s off the roster, Kmet will be the every-down guy and will have an even greater chance to become a tight end at or near the level of, say, Detroit’s T.J. Hockenson.
For now, it’s about Kmet continuing to get better week over week. In fact, his development will likely go hand-in-hand with Fields’, and as long as the arrow continues pointing up, the future of the Bears’ offense is bright.