While Cole Kmet was the first tight end selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, there should be tempered expectations in year one for Chicago Bears fans.
Year one of a tight ends career is usually not welcomed with star production. There are many reasons this is the case, but year after year top young tight ends tend to take a few years of development before the skill sets that got them drafted high shine on the NFL gridiron. It is also a position group that can be overlooked from a value standpoint if the pass-catching production isn’t immediately present. Matt Nagy and the Chicago Bears know the value though.
In Cole Kmet’s case, he was the first tight end drafted in the class and also the first Chicago Bears selection of 2020, so expectations are understandably high. However, it is important to realize he might not light up the stat sheet from the get-go, and here is why:
Adjustment from College to the NFL
Cole Kmet is an incredibly gifted athlete and has the size the NFL covets at the position, but don’t be surprised if it takes him a year or two to fully develop. At Notre Dame, he came in as a top 100 recruit and while on the field he lived up to expectations, he was limited due to injury as a sophomore and junior.
He dealt with a high ankle sprain the majority of his sophomore campaign and missed three games with a broken collarbone last year. At 6-6, 262-pounds, the measurables are certainly there to be an impact tight end at the NFL level, but with his somewhat limited college experience, an adjustment process should be expected.
The in-line blocking ability also needs to improve. He has shown to be an effective blocker in spurts and in time it should be a major strength of his game, but at Notre Dame, he was up and down. One way to receive early playing time in the NFL at tight end is the ability to block at an above-average level, and as a rookie that could be a tough task.
Kmet was pegged as a safe pick for the Chicago Bears, but because of injury, playing time and his dual-sport capabilities in college there is some rawness to his game he will need to hash out.
Other Tight Ends on the Roster
It was sort of the running joke after Kmet was picked by the Chicago Bears, but there are plenty of other tight ends on the roster currently – and there will certainly be competition for playing time. Before the draft, the Bears signed Jimmy Graham to a two-year contract, and while he isn’t the Jimmy Graham of his early Saints days he can still be an effective pass catcher.
He has also proven to be extremely durable. Graham has played in all 16 games dating back to 2016, and at age 33 last year he still caught nearly 40 passes for 450 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Chicago Bears didn’t sign Graham with the expectations he would return to his early years, and obviously, in drafting Kmet they understand the need for talent and youth at the position. With that said, Graham will likely be the more productive and main pass-catching tight end on the roster in 2020.
They also brought in Demetrius Harris on a one year deal, and while he isn’t flashy as a receiver, he’s proven to be a really effective blocking tight end and a valuable asset in-line. The thing working in Kmet’s favor is that he is a better weapon than Harris in the passing game, and he is a better blocker than Graham. That could be his way on to the field in a bigger role.
On top of Graham and Harris essentially locked into roster spots, the Bears currently still have 2017 second-round pick, Adam Shaheen, on the roster. They also have former undrafted players, and front office darlings Ben Braunecker, J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted under contract. Now, the Chicago Bears won’t keep seven tight ends on the 53-man roster, but all of these guys have a chance to make an impact and could limit Kmet in year one to an extent.
Obviously, the hope is that Kmet comes in and is the clear number one from the onset. That is entirely possible. He is a smart player, an impressive athlete and physically ready to compete. He also comes from a college program with a track record of producing productive NFL players at that spot. However, fans need to lower expectations in year one and give him time to grow into a quality NFL tight end.