What are realistic expectations for Cole Kmet as a rookie for the Chicago Bears?
Tight end is one of the hardest positions in the NFL to transition to as a rookie. You rarely see a rookie season breakout as a tight end, as the jump usually takes at least one year. The Chicago Bears are prepared for this, as they have Jimmy Graham and even Demetrius Harris as depth to ease in their second-round draft pick Cole Kmet.
Still, they are going to want to get Kmet on the field as a complementary piece as a rookie and want to run more two and three tight end sets overall.
To find a realistic gauge for what Kmet could bring as a rookie, we looked into every rookie drafted since 2011. Offense expanded with rule changes, and the new CBA in 2011 incentivized teams to get rookies on the field earlier. The game changed vastly with that CBA, making that a strong cut off point. What have rookie tight ends done over that span?
There have been 102 tight ends drafted from 2011-2019. They averaged 23.5 targets during their rookie season, with a median of 15.5. They averaged 15 receptions as a rookie, with a median of 11.
A few strong rookie seasons propped it up, but 52% of rookie tight ends had less ten receptions. Of all rookie tight ends, 31% had between 10 and 30 receptions, leaving just 17% with over 30 receptions.
On average, rookie tight ends averaged 167 yards in their rookie season, with a median of 120. They averaged one touchdown, 10.4 yards per receptions, and 6.7 yards per targets.
Top 100 picks
The median certainly brought the average down, and a lot of the 102 draft picks were later on. In fact, 42 of the 102 were top 100 picks. Those late picks taking up the majority show in the median. Taking out the bottom 60 players who were drafted on day three, we can see how rookie tight ends did when they were selected high, which means an expectation to contribute in some sort.
From T.J. Hockenson at pick eight to Jonnu Smith 100th overall, tight ends saw a variety of outcomes as a rookie. On average, the top 100 picks averaged 37.2 targets and 23 receptions. The median was 38.5 targets and 24 receptions, which is much more in line with average expectations.
On average, the top 100 rookie tight ends had 269 yards, two touchdowns, and 19 yards per receptions. That came with 7.3 yards per target. This is likely more in-line considering the draft stock of Kmet.
Top 50 picks
Top 100 picks give us an excellent range, especially with the cut off between day two and day three picks. Still, even if only seven picks, Kmet was a top 50 pick. That is higher than average draft capital for a tight end. Only 23 players have been drafted in the top 50 since 2011.
On average, top 50 picks had just seven starts in their rookie season. This is fair for Kmet as well, who will come in behind Jimmy Graham often. Top 50 picks averaged 48 targets with a median of 47. They averaged 29 receptions with a median of 28 and 337 yards with a median of 334.
The range of targets ran from 14 to 115 and the yards from 127 to 722. Of course, Adam Shaheen is the 14 for 127 at the low end.
Only Shaheen, Gavin Escobar, and Hayden Hurst were top 50 picks with less than 200 yards as rookies, while Noah Fant and Evan Engram are the only two over 500 yards. We know Kmet isn’t the Fant-Engram spectrum of a receiver, and assume he is not quite Escobar or Shaheen level miss. When you take out those outliers, it comes out to 30 receptions for 335 yards and three touchdowns.
The range of outcomes changes to 16-38 receptions for 200-500 yards. If you were betting on what Kmet would do as a rookie, this range seems broad but is a very good place to start.
Top 50 outcomes
Let’s forget about the draft stock and get optimistic. Regardless of where you were drafted, what are the top 50 outcomes for a rookie tight end? Engram leads the way, with Levine Toilolo as the 50th best rookie tight end season since 2011.
You realize just how unproductive tight ends are as rookies when you notice Adam Shaheen finished with the 46th best rookie tight end season since the CBA.
The average result was 26 receptions for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Top 100 picks averaged 23 receptions for 269 yards. This range would be an expected outcome from Kmet as a rookie.
Top 25 outcomes
Let’s get even more optimistic, and lets cut out from Shaheen weighing down the average outcomes. There were 23 tight ends drafted in the top 50 since 2011, how did they compare to the best overall 25 results?
On average, the best outcome has been 35 receptions on 55 targets. That includes 402 yards and three touchdowns. We noted 16-38 receptions and 200-500 yards, and while the top overall outcomes are on the high end, this is right in the range of likely outcomes. Taking out Engram and Fant, as we did earlier, you can see an average line of 33 receptions for 381 yards and three touchdowns. That is a very fair projection for Cole Kmet as a rookie. For comparison, Dallas Goedert had 33 receptions for 334 yards as a rookie back up tight end behind Zach Ertz. Irv Smith had 36 receptions for 311 yards as a rookie last year, complimenting Kyle Rudolph. This is the type of usage and production Kmet could provide.
Top 10 outcomes
Since 2011, the top 10 outcomes by a rookie tight end are Engram, Jordan Reed, George Kittle, Fant, Tyler Eifert, Chris Herndon, Jace Amaro, Mychal Rivera, Zach Ertz, and Hunter Henry. This would be a better outcome than most Bears fans would expect, but it is in the range of outcomes.
These tight ends averaged 42 receptions for 484 yards and four touchdowns. Even with these higher range outcomes, they are not far off the average of 33 receptions for 381 yards that the top 25 results had, or the 30 for 335 that top 50 picks recorded. Even top 100 picks averaged 26 receptions for 269 yards.
From 26-42 receptions and 269-484 yards, the is an even more specific expectation for Kmet based on average outcomes of past tight ends.
Last season, 38 tight ends had over 26 catches, 17 had over 43. 36 tight ends had more than 270 yards, and 16 had more than 484. Considering he is not a starting tight end yet, and more an additional piece, being close to the 40th most productive tight end as a rookie may be right. Now, keep in mind that the Bears had 46 receptions for 416 yards as a whole group of tight ends in 2019.
Overall, it is a fair expectation for Kmet considering he will be splitting time and will have nearly all of the 2019 Bears tight ends production while still being average for a successful rookie tight end. If you are expecting Kmet to win rookie of the year, you may not like his rookie season. If you are expecting over 20 catches for over 200 yards, that is fair to expect from the rookie.