A deep dive into the TEs, part 3: efficiency, man vs. zone, target depth

| May 30th, 2024

This is part 3 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 how offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has deployed his tight ends.
  • In part two, we examined how frequently and effectively Kmet and Everett were asked to block in both the run and pass games.

Today, we’re going to switch gears to focus on the tight ends as pass catchers. We’ll look at overall efficiency, how they performed against zone and man coverage, and how frequently and effectively they were targeted at different depths of the field.

Basic Efficiency Stats

We saw in part 1 that Kmet and Everett both have starting TE volume in the passing game, but volume stats don’t tell you the whole story; we also need to look at how efficient players are with their targets. The table below shows that data for Chicago’s TEs, as well as their ranks compared to 26 TEs with at least 50 targets. Values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are in red. NFL best, average, and worst values among those 26 players are also included to help contextualize the data. All data is pulled from Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder.

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

A few thoughts:

  • Kmet performs very well in overall efficiency, which is especially impressive considering he was a high volume player as well – his 90 targets ranked him 9th overall among TEs in 2023.
    • This backs up a breakout season in 2022, and shows that Kmet is firmly established as one of the top 10 TEs in the NFL. I have to take my L here, as I was pretty low on Kmet after 2021.
    • Kmet particularly posted a very high catch rate, which continues an upward trend throughout his career (64%-65%-72%-81% in his four seasons). That, coupled with his low yards/catch mark, suggests that he is finding his role as a reliable safety valve underneath, much like Keenan Allen provides from the WRs.
    • Despite that, Kmet also posts a high rate of explosive plays that gain 20+ yards. This suggests that he sees a decent number of downfield targets as well, and we’ll look at that in more detail later in this article.
      • The explosive play rate was a welcome improvement from earlier in his career. Kmet posted 13 explosive plays on 90 targets in 2023 after having only 14 on 206 targets in his first 3 seasons.
      • This shows his continued growth as a player, as Kmet is just now entering his prime at 25 years old.
    • Kmet also posted a high touchdown rate for the 2nd year in a row, which is another stark difference from the first 2 years of his career.
  • Everett, on the other hand, is near the bottom in most efficiency metrics. He has a decent catch rate, but really struggles gaining yards and producing explosive plays.
    • This marked a steep dropoff from 2021-22, when he posted a comparable 71% catch rate but much higher 9.7 yards/catch, giving him a respectable 6.9 yards/target overall.
    • We can’t blame this on QB play either, as the Chargers averaged a respectable 6.8 yards/attempt in 2023, which was close to the NFL average of 7.0 yards/attempt and a slight improvement on their 6.7 yards/attempt mark in 2022.
    • We saw a similar efficiency dropoff from Robert Tonyan the year before he joined the Bears, and it turned out to be a clear warning sign that he was washed up. Let’s hope that is not the case with Everett.

Man vs. Zone

Let’s move now to look at how Kmet and Everett produced vs. man and zone coverage. The table below shows a variety of stats for each player against each type of coverage, along with how they rank compared to 26 TEs with 50+ targets in 2023. All data presented here comes from Pro Football Focus (PFF). Like above, the top 25% of values are highlighted in green, and the bottom 25% in red, and the best, average, and worst values from the sample are given.

A few thoughts:

  • The first thing that stands out to me is that neither player is very effective against man coverage, even when accounting for the fact that tight ends usually see fewer targets against man than zone.
    • This matches a career-long trend of low/poor usage against man for Kmet, so that just seems to be who he is as a tight end.
      • If you want to be optimistic, you could view this as a remaining area for growth. He has improved on several other areas in the last 2 years, so maybe this is the next part of his game to work on. It is really his only remaining clear weakness.
    • The man struggles are new for Everett. From 2021-22, he saw a target against man coverage every 4.6 routes, and posted an excellent 73% catch rate and 10.2 yards/target on those throws.
      • I am inclined to read this as a sign of Everett slowing down. He will be turning 30 in June, and is likely at the stage of his career where he’s starting to lose some athleticism.
      • If you want to be more optimistic, you could say 2023 was a fluke, and past history says he should be a useful man-beater for the Bears in 2024.
  • I’m not particularly worried about neither TE doing much against man coverage, because both DJ Moore and Rome Odunze are high volume and high efficiency players when teams try to cover them in man.
  • Switching to zone, we see that both players get a fairly high volume of targets, but what they did with them was wildly different.
    • Kmet was one of the NFL’s most productive tight ends against zone coverage, showing a nice improvement from 2022 (5.7 routes/target, 77% catch rate, 8.3 yards/target) in both volume and efficiency.
    • Everett, on the other hand, was highly inefficient against zone. He had a respectable catch rate, but everything was really short, as he posted the lowest air yards/target of any tight end in the sample. This resulted in him having the 2nd lowest yards/catch and lowest yards/target mark.
      • This matches trends from previous years, as Everett had 4.1 air yards/target, 6.9 yards/target, and 9.2 yards/catch against zone in 2022.
      • It seems Everett’s main value as a pass catcher has been producing against man coverage, but he really struggled there in 2023. If he cannot regain that form, I don’t know how much value he can provide. He doesn’t do much in the way of blocking, and he’s not one of the 5 best pass catchers on the roster.
      • Coupled with the questions about his fit in this offense due to a lack of blocking usage and ability, I think Everett’s role in the 2024 offense will be smaller than most anticipate, and he seems likely to be a cap casualty next offseason, when the Bears could cut him to save $5.5M in cap space with only $1M in dead money.
      • Please don’t read this as me being upset about signing Everett. He was needed insurance in case the Bears couldn’t add a WR who is ready to play day 1 in the draft. He remains good injury insurance if one of the top 3 WRs or Kmet get hurt, and will likely see a significantly increased role in that scenario. But when everybody is healthy, he really feels like the odd man out.

Targets by Depth

Now let’s examine how frequently and effectively Kmet and Everett were targeted at different depths of the field. The table below shows this data split into four depths: behind the line of scrimmage, 0-9 yards downfield (short), 10-19 yards downfield (intermediate), and 20+ yards downfield (deep). A variety of production metrics are given at each depth, along with Kmet and Everett’s ranks compared to 26 TEs with 50+ targets in 2023. Ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red, and the high, average, and low values of the 54-player sample are shown for context. All data is from Pro Football Focus (PFF).

A few thoughts:

  • Looking at Kmet, a few trends stand out:
    • He saw about 2/3 of his targets in the short area of the field, 0-9 yards past the line of scrimmage, and was quite effective on these passes. This is a marked increase from past years (he was at only 50% of targets there in 2021-22), but again establishes him as a reliable safety valve underneath, much like Keenan Allen.
    • We saw when looking at the WRs that DJ Moore and Rome Odunze are both high-level deep threats, which pairs nicely with Allen and Kmet working underneath. The Bears’ main weapons all complement each other really well.
    • Kmet also sees a decent chunk of deep passes, which matches past years.
      • I try not to read too much into efficiency metrics here, as they are small sample sizes, but it’s worth noting Kmet had struggled on deep balls prior to 2023 (30% catch rate, 9.0 yards/target), and 2023 was a huge change in that. Of course, it was only 7 targets, so we’ll have to wait and see whether this was a fluke or another sign of Kmet’s improvement.
  • Switching over to Everett, we see a very different usage profile.
    • Everett saw a huge rate of screen passes behind the line of scrimmage, as those accounted for 1/5 of his targets, the highest rate of any TE in the sample. He was reasonably effective on these passes as well, with a solid 6.3 yards/target.
      • The high volume of screens is not new, as 17% of Everett’s targets were behind the line of scrimmage in 2021-22. The effectiveness was a change, however, as Everett averaged only 4.1 yards/target on these passes the prior 2 seasons. It’s hard to say if the efficiency will carry over, but I would guess we will continue to see a good portion of Everett’s targets come on screens in 2024.
    • Everett also saw very few passes downfield, as he ranked in the bottom 2 TE in target frequency for both intermediate and deep passes.

Final Thoughts

In case you got lost in the 1700 words above, or didn’t feel like wading through them, here are the main takeaways from today’s article:

  • Cole Kmet continues to improve, and is firmly established as one of the better TEs in the NFL.
    • He still doesn’t produce much against man coverage, but is a reliable underneath option against zone – much like Keenan Allen.
  • Gerald Everett’s 2023 profile showed clear signs of decline, giving concern that he might be washed up.
    • He’s never been very effective against zone, but was a solid man-beater prior to 2023. If he cannot regain that ability, his value and role in Chicago’s offense will likely be fairly limited.
    • He also showed no ability to get downfield in 2023.

Stay tuned for the final part of this series tomorrow, when we’ll dig into how each TE performed as a pass catcher on 3rd/4th down, in the red zone, and out of the slot.

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