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What Can Tight End Stats Tell Us About Cole Kmet's Rookie Season?

How Cole Kmet's rookie season with the Bears compares to other recently drafted tight ends and some theories on where he can improve.
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Cole Kmet's rookie season has become a hot topic lately. So I decided to take a statistical look at his rookie season and compare it against other rookie tight end seasons from the last five years. Obviously, expectations for the hometown second-round pick were high, and there has been a lot of discussion recently about whether his season came close to those expectations. So let's get into the details of the stats.

Rookie Tight End Stats

Below I listed all tight ends drafted in the first three rounds who exceed 20 targets in their rookie seasons since 2016. I break down the stats by season totals, stats against man coverage, and stats against zone coverage. We will use this group to compare against Kmet's rookie season.

  • Tgts/Routes Run = How often the QB threw toward the tight end, relative to how often the tight end was a receiving option.
  • Yds/Rec = How many yards the tight end averaged per catch.
  • Contested Tgts/Tgts = How often the QB threw a jump ball for the tight end, relative to all of the tight ends targets.
  • Contested target completion % = How often the tight end came down with a catch on jump balls.
  • Avg. Depth of target = How far beyond the line of scrimmage the tight end was on their targets, on average.

The Data

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Overall, we see that Kmet’s rookie usage was on par with expectations. However, his efficiency was poor.

  • His numbers against man coverage drive down his efficiency. In these situations, his target share declined significantly, as did his yards per catch and average depth of target. I think this could be partially due to his contested target share being well below the median, meaning that the Bears QB's did not throw many jump balls up to Kmet, letting him use his body to box out defenders. Instead, they mostly threw him short routes when the throw could not be contested.
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  • The lack of trust to throw the ball up to Kmet when compared to other rookie tight ends is a little perplexing, given his contested target completion percentage of 71%, which was the best among the group. Kmet shows promise in his ability to pull down contested targets, but there is cause for concern in his route running capabilities at this point in time.
  • Also notable is the fact that the Bears QB's had below average ADOT in general. The bears figure of 8.4 ranks 13th among the group, which could certainly have an impact on Kmet’s ADOT. A QB having minimal pocket time, as we saw with Foles in 2020, also drives the below average number here.

Other Kmet Considerations:

Aside from the points mentioned in the table, I came across a few other interesting notes.

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  • The Bears used Kmet as a blocker in 58.4% of his snaps, which ranked third among the group. The only tight ends in the group used more as blockers were Adam Trautman and OJ Howard.
  • Despite being more of a prototypical in-line TE physically, Kmet's snaps were all over the field. He aligned in-line on 50% of his pass play snaps, ranking 12th among the group. Additionally, he lined up in the slot the sixth-most among the group and out wide the fifth-most. There could be more to look into here in conjunction with personnel usage trends, which Johnathan Wood over at Da Bears Blog recently dove into.
  • Kmet played the fifth-most snaps among TE’s in the group, showing an ability to stay on the field through various game situations. Although, an argument that this can be negated by his poor efficiency is valid.
  • He only gained a first down or touchdown on 42.9% of his receptions, which ranks 14th among the group. 
  • Kmet only had one contested target against man coverage in his rookie season, which he caught. The median for the group is 2.5 contested targets against man coverage. The top half of the group averaged 7.9 contested targets against man.
  • Against zone coverage, Kmet only had four contested targets, three of which he caught. The median for the group is 4.5 contested targets. The top half of the group averaged 8.7 contested targets against zone.


Overall, we all know that Cole Kmet is not in the physical mold of a George Kittle, Travis Kelce, or Darren Waller. He is more similar physically to the likes of Jason Witten, Zach Hertz, and Kyle Rudolph. Kmet's rookie season showed us his abilities and limitations. There is absolutely value in an every-down tight end who can play in any situation and package. But players of Kmet's mold need to win with savvy route-running, precision, and size. Few rookies possess the first two of the aforementioned qualities, and the third he didn't get much of opportunity to show off.

I wouldn't expect Cole Kmet to have a massive breakthrough year where everything just clicks in 2021 because I'm not sure that he has the physical toolset for that to happen. But I would expect him to slowly and consistently improve as long as he continues putting in the work and is afforded the right opportunities on Sundays.