A deep dive into the TEs, part 1: usage

| May 28th, 2024

After handing Cole Kmet a big extension last offseason and signing Gerald Everett to a solid contract in free agency this year, the Bears have two starting-caliber tight ends on the roster. Both players were heavily utilized in the passing game in 2023, which can be seen in the table below showing their basic receiving production, with ranks compared to other NFL TEs in parentheses.

Kmet was among the top 10 TEs in every stat, while Everett generally ranked in the 15-25 range, which would put him as roughly an average to below average starter. Their pay checks also reflect the expectation that both players are expected to play starting-type roles, as they currently rank 9th (Kmet) and 21st (Everett) among TEs in average yearly salary. Since both players will be playing important roles in Chicago’s offense in 2024, this week’s series is going to take a detailed look at how each of them could be useful. We’ll split this into four parts:

  • Part 1:
    • How new OC Shane Waldron has utilized his TE in the past
    • How this compares to Kmet and Everett’s usage
  • Part 2:
    • How frequently and effectively they blocked
  • Part 3:
    • How efficient they were overall as pass catchers
    • How they performed against man and zone coverage
    • How frequently and efficiently they were targeted at different depths of the field
  • Part 4:
    • 3rd and 4th down production
    • Red zone usage
    • How frequently and efficiently they produced in the slot

Waldron TE Usage

Let’s start with a look at how new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron used his tight ends during his 3 seasons in Seattle. The table below shows information about how much his tight ends played, how frequently they were targeted in the passing game, and where they lined up. TE1-TE3 status for each season is based on total snap counts, and alignment information is pulled from Pro Football Focus (PFF).

Side note: sorry if there are formatting issues for the tables. You can view them in full by clicking on them. 

Here are those same stats for Kmet and Everett from 2021-23, using their averages over the 3 seasons.

A few thoughts:

  • The first thing that stands out to me is that Kmet plays significantly more snaps than Waldron has ever utilized for a single TE before.
    • Of course, Waldron never had a TE of Kmet’s caliber. I would guess we will continue to see Kmet play almost all the snaps, but maybe they try to rest him a little bit more this year now that there is better depth behind him.
    • Outside of that, Kmet’s profile seems to match that of a Waldron TE1 fairly well. He lines up in the slot a similar % of the time and sees targets at a fairly comparable rate to
  • The 2nd thing that stands out is that Everett fits the profile of a typical Waldron TE1, not TE2.
    • Waldron’s TE2 and TE3 typically don’t play much in the slot and see pass targets fairly infrequently, suggesting they function more as blockers than pass catchers.
    • Everett, on the other hand, has seen a good chunk of snaps in the slot and earned pass targets at a high rate, much more consistent with a Waldron TE1 role (which he filled in 2021) than that of a backup.
    • I wonder if Everett was signed for his contributions as a pass catcher in case the Bears couldn’t land a WR high in the draft, but will see his targets squeezed out in this offense after the Bears drafted Rome Odunze.
      • The Bears have 5 highly paid veteran pass catchers: WR DJ Moore, WR Keenan Allen, TE Cole Kmet, TE Gerald Everett, and D’Andre Swift. Those 5 have combined to average about 495 pass targets per season over the last 3 years.
      • Shane Waldron’s Seattle teams averaged around 550 pass attempts/season.
      • That only leaves about 55 targets for other players, and Rome Odunze was drafted with the 9th overall pick to be an immediate contributor in the pass game. The 5 other WRs drafted in the top 10 in the last 5 years averaged 127 targets/season, and every one of them hit at least 100 targets.
      • The Bears don’t have enough targets to go around, and that’s before you consider the 40-50 targets depth players like Tyler Scott, Velus Jones Jr, Khalil Herbert, and Roschon Johnson will soak up. Somebody has to get squeezed, and I think it is likely that will be Everett, who the Bears have the least invested in out of any of the main players.
    • Of course, we’ve seen before in Waldron’s play calling tendencies that he can adapt his approach as the personnel he has to work with changes, so here’s hoping he can do that with Everett in 2024 to find a way he can provide value.
  • The other clear trend I notice is that the Bears need a 3rd TE.
    • Waldron consistently likes playing 3 TE for a good number of snaps, but the Bears only have 2 worth playing right now. The only TEs on the roster besides Kmet and Everett are Stephen Carlson (294 total snaps since 2019), Tommy Sweeney (464 career snaps since 2019), and undrafted free agent Brendan Bates.
    • Of course, Waldron has shown he can adapt here too, as Seattle’s 3rd TE only played 187 snaps in 2021 when they didn’t have a 3rd TE worth playing.
    • You could also think of it in total snaps: Seattle’s top 3 TEs averaged a little over 1500 combined snaps per season from 2021-23, while Kmet and Everett averaged around 1550 snaps/year in the same span. Maybe Waldron anticipates getting just as many total TE snaps in Chicago as he did in Seattle, but can get that through playing 2 TEs for higher individual snaps.
  • One other interesting nugget that didn’t find its way in the table is that Waldron likes to use TE in the backfield (averaged over 100 backfield snaps for his TE in 2022-23), but neither Kmet (12 backfield snaps/year) or Everett (17 backfield snaps/year) have done that much in the last several years. This matches what I found when looking at Waldron’s tendencies earlier this offseason, and I remain curious to see whether the Bears still look to bring in more of a move TE who can be a hybrid FB, or if they try to turn FB Khari Blasingame into more of a hybrid TE.

Final Thoughts

If you feel a bit lost after those 1000 words, or don’t feel like wading through them all, then this is the section for you! Here are the main takeaways from today’s article:

  • Shane Waldron typically likes to play 3 TEs for heavy snaps, but the Bears only have 2 worth playing.
  • Out of those 2, Cole Kmet is the clear TE1, and he typically plays about 50% more snaps than Waldron’s top TE. I have a hunch that Waldron’s tendencies will change here more than Kmet’s overall snap count.
  • TE2 Gerald Everett doesn’t seem to match a typical Waldron backup TE at all though. Everett is heavily involved in the pass game, while Waldron’s TE2 is usually more of a run blocker.
    • Chicago’s loaded roster of pass catchers also makes me suspect Everett will see a surprisingly small role in Chicago this year, unless other players get hurt.
  • Waldron typically plays his TEs in the backfield significantly more than Kmet or Everett have done, and I will be curious to see which of those two trends changes.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series tomorrow, when we’ll examine how each tight end has been utilized as a blocker.

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