OPINION: Realistic Expectations for Cole Kmet’s Rookie Season
The first time I came on the airwaves and claimed that Cole Kmet was an NFL talent was September 25, 2019 on our Irish On Tap postgame recap of the Georgia Game. This also happened to be after Cole spent the first few weeks of the season out with an injury, and made his season debut against the number three team in the nation. As someone who covers Notre Dame and the Chicago Bears, I instantly identified the fit early last season and now we’re here.
I have made it no secret throughout the 2019 college football season and the 2020 NFL Draft process that Cole Kmet was the perfect answer for the Chicago Bears tight end issue. The situation could not have worked out better for Cole as he gets to come in and learn from Jimmy Graham, and the Bears get their playmaking tight end. For style points, this is only the second pick I have forecasted in my years as a Bears fan and covering the team, with Roquan Smith being the other pick.
From a competition standpoint, there is no denying that the Georgia game was the biggest game on Notre Dame’s schedule last season. As previously mentioned, it was Kmet’s first game of the season and he came out on fire leading the charge offensively for the Irish with 9 catches 108 yards and a touchdown. What we will need Kmet to do for the Bears is almost identical to what he had to do at Notre Dame.
The difference for Kmet is he won’t need to be relied on as much going into year one. He won’t have to step in and be the number one tight end target, as the Bears backed up the Brinks truck for Jimmy Graham this offseason. Kmet was used primarily over the middle during the 2019 season, and for a tight end, he was able to attack all three levels of the defense during the 2019 season. I’ve seen people speaking about his 4.7 speed not being fast enough to truly make a difference at this level. I came out and said it during the draft process that Cole Kmet is the closest tight end prospect that we’ve seen to Rob Gronkowski since the man himself and I will die on that hill.
The first thing you notice when you cut the tape on Kmet is that is his physicality, the guy flat out does not go down in the open field. I’m sure Kmet can attribute his physical style of play to his father Frank Kmet, who played some defensive and offensive line for the Bears in the mid 90’s after a stellar career at Purdue.
People are worried that he will have a tough time getting open, but with the way the Bears offense is set up, I feel he will be utilized primarily in the short to intermediate passing game. He is not shy about using his hands within those first five yards that receivers and defensive backs are allowed to hand fight, and is elite at catching the ball in traffic. Cole finished last season with 43 catches 515 yards and 6 touchdowns with a 12-yard average in ten games for the Fighting Irish.
It’s poetry in motion watching Kmet dissect a defense, he has sure hands, enough speed to get to the second and third level, and can even be utilized out of the slot. Kmet is a gang tackle for opposing defenses and someone who cannot be taken down by arm tackles. His blocking leaves room for improvement, but he wasn’t necessarily used in that role last season as it was up to guys like Tommy Tremble and Brock Wright to do so, making Kmet the pass catching tight end in the Notre Dame offense last season. Kmet should develop into a quality blocking tight end after spending time with Juan Castillo. Let’s be honest, we are talking about a guy who is 6’6″ 262 lbs.
Cole Kmet will be used mainly in goal line sets, and the red zone. A majority of his work will come over the middle with a combination of the seam, slant, drag, and curl routes. I believe that anytime you have guys like Allen Robinson, Jimmy Graham, and Cole Kmet as your targets in the red zone, regardless of who’s slinging it, you’ll come away with six points more often than not. One concern when forecasting what Kmet could do this season is, who will be throwing him the ball? Whether it’s Mitch under center or Nick Foles, you can count on them utilizing their tight ends heavily. The best part about it is the Bears have a plethora of tight ends to sort through before the season.
Expect for Graham to be your top tight end, with Cole Kmet acting as tight end 1A. The Bears aren’t always going to be out there in two tight end sets, but I could see scenarios where Kmet is the clear cut choice in a certain situation over Graham in single tight end sets. No matter which way you look at it, Kmet will be productive in this offense, and has a bright future in the NFL should he stay healthy. As for this season, I have him at 35 catches for at least 500 yards and three touchdowns this season.
The tight end room was arguably the worst in football last season, but with the additions at the position in the offseason, they are set to make one of the biggest leaps among Bears position groups this season and look for Cole Kmet to be a big part of that.