A deep dive into the TEs, part 2: blocking

| May 29th, 2024

This is the 2nd installment of a 4-part series looking at Chicago TEs Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett. In part one, we explored how each player has been used in the past, and how this might match up with the way offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has deployed his tight ends. Today, we’re going to focus on blocking, which is an often overlooked part of a tight ends’ role.

Pass Blocking

Let’s start by looking at how frequently and effectively Chicago’s TEs pass blocked. The table below shows some basic pass blocking stats from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for Kmet and Everett in 2023, and their rank compared to 45 NFL TEs with at least 25 pass blocking snaps. Ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A brief explanation of some of the stats:

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

A few thoughts:

  • The first thing that stands out is that Everett is not asked to pass block very much. This was consistent across multiple seasons as well, as he averaged blocking on only 8% of his pass plays from 2021-22.
    • This once again makes me question Everett’s fit as a backup TE in Shane Waldron’s offense. Waldron’s TE2 and TE3 both averaged blocking on about 17% of pass plays from 2021-23, more than double the rate at which Everett blocked. The Bears won’t want to make Cole Kmet block more, since he’s a better pass catcher than Everett.
    • We did see one instance where a backup TE only blocked about 10% of the time on pass plays under Waldron in Seattle – Colby Parkinson in 2022. This once again speaks to Waldron’s ability to adapt to his personnel, though it’s worth noting that Parkinson had a significantly diminished role compared to what Everett is used to (440 snaps, 34 targets compared to Everett averaging 640 snaps and 73 targets over the last 3 years).
  • Kmet, on the other hand, blocked a fairly average amount for a TE on passing plays. As we saw in part 1, Kmet also put up notable pass catching numbers in 2023, which speaks to the well-rounded nature of his game.
    • It’s worth noting that Waldron’s TE1 only blocked on about 9% of pass plays from 2021-23, so we might see Kmet get asked to pass block a little bit less going forward.
  • I want to caution you not to put too much stock into the efficiency numbers, as these are small sample sizes. The majority of TE run routes on most pass plays, and the maximum number of pass blocking snaps a TE saw in 2023 was less than 100.
    • With that said, there is nothing in Kmet or Everett’s data here to suggest they are poor pass blockers when asked to do it. That’s good.
    • We can make the sample sizes a bit bigger by expanding the time frame. Over the last 3 seasons, Kmet has 181 pass blocking snaps, and has allowed a pressure about once every 20 snaps. Everett has 92 pass blocking snaps in that same time frame, and has allowed a pressure about once every 18 snaps. Those are both slightly better than average (which is a fairly meaningful number with over 2000 pass blocking snaps between all these TEs in 2023), suggesting that both TEs are adequate pass blockers in the relatively rare instances they are asked to do it.

Run Blocking

Let’s shift gears and examine run blocking. Sample sizes here will be a good bit larger since TEs block for virtually every run play they are on the field, but it’s hard to quantify how effective they are since the only stat I can find is PFF grades, and those are admittedly subjective.

Still, the table below shows a variety of run blocking statistics for Kmet and Everett compared to 65 TEs with at least 150 run blocking snaps in 2023. Like with the table above, their ranks relative to that sample are shown in parentheses, with areas in the top 25% highlighted in green and the bottom 25% highlighted in red. All data is from PFF.

A few thoughts:

  • I am more interested in how players are used than evaluating their performance here, as I typically don’t put much weight in PFF grades since they’re not a quantifiable, measurable stat.
  • With that in mind, the % of snaps run plays – which is the % of snaps when a player was on the field that were run plays – is interesting to me. The TEs in this sample mostly fit into one of three bins:
    • Run-blocking specialists: these players are mostly used to block in the run game, as more than 55% of their snaps are running plays. They average far fewer snaps than the other 2 groups (385 vs. about 650) in this sample.
    • Balanced TEs: these players have fairly neutral splits for running and passing when they are on vs. off the field, which means they see run rates of between 40-50% when they are playing, similar to what most NFL offenses are at overall.
    • Pass game specialists: these players are mostly played in passing situations, as teams run less than 35% of the time when they are on the field.
    • All together, these three bins make up 54 of 65 players, accounting for most of the sample. Kmet fits into the balanced bin, while Everett is a pass game specialist.
      • These trends match previous years, as Kmet is at 42% runs when in the game from 2021-22, while Everett is at 32%.
    • It is worth noting that Waldron’s typical TE usage has a pass-game specialist as his TE1 (35% run plays when they are in the game from 21-23), with the offense being balanced with TE2 (46% runs) and TE3 (49% runs) in the game.
    • On the flip side, Waldron’s preference for having a pass catching specialist as a TE1 makes me wonder if we might see Kmet shift into a bit more of that role.
      • It’s also possible Kmet will remain balanced if Waldron leaves him in for more snaps than he typically has his TE – it’s hard to be specialized when you’re playing 85% of the available snaps, as Kmet has the last 3 years.
  • Another aspect of usage is how often each player is asked to block for zone vs. gap runs. You can read more here for detailed information about the difference, but generally zone runs make the blocker responsible for a specific area and let the running back read where the hole is, while gap runs aim to clear a hole in a specific gap.
    • This is more of a scheme thing than a player-specific thing, so what’s probably most relevant isn’t in the table: Seattle’s teams were heavily based on zone running, as they only used gap blocking for 28% of plays from 2021-23.
    • To put that number in perspective, NFL teams as a whole utilized gap runs about 40% of the time in 2022 and 2023, and the Bears were at around 35% over those 2 seasons. So overall we should expect more zone runs in 2024.
  • If you do want to take a look at blocking efficiency, Kmet is generally around average, while Everett is generally below average but not terrible.
    • Kmet’s grades were actually down a bit to average in 2023, as his overall run blocking was graded as a 65 in 2022 and 62 in 2021, both well above TE norms shown in the table above.
      • Since we can expect about 75% of his blocking snaps will be zone under Waldron, those grades were also a solid 65 in 2022 and 62 in 2021.
      • Again, I don’t want to put too much stock in a statistic that doesn’t have a clear measurement, but it seems fair to generally categorize Kmet as an average to above average run blocker for a TE.
    • Everett also saw poor run blocking grades in 2022 (45) and 2021 (57). His zone grades were similarly sub-par (46 in 2022 and 56 in 2021). Again, an overall description of below average but not terrible seems appropriate to describe his run blocking.

Final Thoughts

If you got lost in the 1400 or so words above, here are the main takeaways from this article:

  • Like we saw in part 1, Gerald Everett does not fit the profile of a typical Waldron backup TE. He doesn’t get asked to run or pass block much, while Waldron’s backup TEs typically block quite a bit and don’t get as many chances to catch passes.
    • When Everett does get asked to run block, he is generally not very good at it.
    • His strengths seem to lie more as a pass catcher, which we will look at in more detail in in parts 3 and 4.
  • Cole Kmet is a well-rounded TE capable of being a pass catcher, pass blocker, and run blocker at an adequate or better level.
    • That every-down versatility is not something Waldron has really had in the past, and I am curious to see how he will shape Kmet’s role in the offense.
  • Waldron’s history shows that the Bears should be expected to heavily utilize zone running plays when they do run the ball.

Stay tuned for part 3 of this series tomorrow, when we’ll begin to explore how these tight ends are utilized in the passing game.

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