It’s weird to hear a second-year player, in his very early 20s, criticized the way Cole Kmet is criticized. But perhaps we should expect nothing less from a passionate, if sometimes over-emotional fan base.
Kmet is putting together a fine season for the Bears. With three games left, he has 49 catches, averaging 10 yards per catch. Those numbers put him firmly in the top-15 in the league. Oh, and he’s a good blocker to boot. Yet, every game, there are Bears fans calling him some combination of a bust or wasted pick. It truly is weird.
What most fans seem to have lost sight of is that tight end is a grown man’s position, especially those who play in-line, like Kmet does. If you look throughout the history of the league, it is rare to find a young tight end who has produced like Kmet at only 22 years old. Of the tight ends with more catches than Kmet, only one is younger than 24 – that’s phenom Kyle Pitts, who really is more of a wide receiver at this point.
Even freaks of nature like George Kittle and Travis Kelce didn’t break out until well past their 22nd birthdays. In fact, both were not producing much in college when they were Kmet’s age. Kittle had 20 catches at Iowa and Kelce had 13 at Cincinnati.
Kmet is following a similar path as other young tight ends by essentially red shirting as a rookie and then seeing a significant uptick in production to a solid, but unspectacular player in his second year. While Kittle broke out as a sophomore with 88 catches, he was an outlier, even among the best tight ends in the league. Kelce had 72. Zach Ertz had 58. There are some on the other end of the spectrum too, as Dalton Schultz managed just one catch during his second season, and Tyler Conklin had eight.
Recent first round picks T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant finished with 67 and 62 catches during their second seasons. Both were a year older than Kmet is now.
Bears fans have never forgotten Greg Olsen, but he caught 54 passes his second year, at 23 years old.
It’s also worth noting that Kmet’s production has come playing on one of the worst passing offenses in the league. You’d love to see him find the end zone, but they have only thrown him the ball three times inside the ten. (While obsessing over Jimmy Graham down there.) We all saw Monday night when he sprung open only to have a pass thrown behind him, costing the team a sure touchdown.
We can’t possibly say what kind of tight end Kmet will end up being. He is a very stiff athlete, though does have plenty of speed and explosive traits. We can’t deny his issues catching passes in traffic, a killer in the red zone, or that he sometimes doesn’t look fluid. But let’s not act like he’s Adam Shaheen either.
At the end of the day, Kmet is producing better than a 22-year-old second-year tight end typically does. While he may not have the traits of some of the game’s elite — like Kelce and Kittle — he has plenty enough to be a productive player for a long time. He’s considerably more athletic than, say, Kyle Rudolph and there’s no reason to think he won’t be at least an Austin Hooper-level tight end. Though, Kmet is significantly out-producing Hooper even this year.
The bottom line with Kmet is that he has to start making catches in traffic if he is ever going to be one of the game’s elite tight ends, but he’s already a solid starter and that is right where he should be.