A Closer Look at Cole Kmet’s Rookie Season

| March 15th, 2021

Last offseason, I looked at rookie production for recent tight ends to form realistic expectations for Cole Kmet’s rookie season. In that study, I found three statistical thresholds for a rookie season that seemed to portend good things to come:

  • Play at least 400 snaps
  • See at least 40 targets
  • Average at least 6.0 yards/target

There were 8 tight ends drafted in the 2nd round over the last 10 years who hit all three of those thresholds as rookies, and 7 of them had at least one NFL season with 500 receiving yards. Only two of the eight 2nd round picks in the same time frame – who did not hit all three thresholds – went on to have a season with 500 receiving yards. With that in mind, let’s look at how Cole Kmet did in his rookie year.

  • 603 snaps
  • 44 targets
  • 5.5 yards/target

Here you can see that Kmet hit the thresholds for snaps and targets, but was really inefficient with those targets, meaning he did not hit the 6.0 yards/target threshold. This does not guarantee Kmet will be a bust, but it also puts him in company of players who mostly did not pan out as capable receiving TEs in the NFL.

Diving deeper into Kmet’s receiving numbers, it quickly becomes apparent why he was so inefficient. He caught 64% of his targets, which is right in line with the average for the group of 2nd round rookie TEs as a whole, but he averaged only 8.7 yards/catch, compared to an average of 10.9.

This happened because Kmet was basically only targeted on dump-offs. His average target was only 6.2 yards past the line of scrimmage, which was the 7th shortest among qualified pass targets in the NFL (WR and TE only) per Next Gen Stats. According to Pro Football Reference, his average catch came just 3.8 yards past the line of scrimmage, which was the 3rd shortest mark of any WR or TE in the NFL. If you’re only going to catch dump off passes, it’s very hard to be an efficient pass catcher.

In order to get a broader look at how Kmet compares to recent rookies, I examined all TEs drafted since 2010 who saw at least 40 targets in their rookie season. This gave a sample size of 32 players. You can view the full data set here, but the table below shows how Kmet ranked relative to his peers in a few key passing metrics.

Kmet was right near the bottom in both yards/target and yards/catch, again indicating he caught a lot of short passes and couldn’t do much else. This does, however, give us a few comparisons for Kmet’s rookie season, as he was one of 3 players who ranked in the bottom 5 in both yards/catch and yards/target. Here’s a quick look at the other two:

  • Jermaine Gresham. This would be an optimistic outlook for Kmet’s career. Gresham had a 9 year NFL career, was a starter for all 9 years, and made 2 Pro Bowls. He was never a great tight end, but he was good for a long time as somebody who was a good blocker and could be useful in the passing game as well.
  • Maxx Williams. This would be a pessimistic outlook for Kmet’s career. Williams has spent 6 years in the NFL and is still active, but he only has 800 total receiving yards and has never topped 300 yards in a season. He’s a capable TE2 who can block well but doesn’t really factor into the passing game.

Overall, I think Cole Kmet’s season should be counted as a success. He played quite a bit and generally looked like he belonged on the NFL field. His inefficient production in the passing game is a real concern, however, and might limit just how good he can be going forward.