A deep dive into the TEs, part 4: 3rd down, red zone, slot

| May 31st, 2024

This is the final 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 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.
  • In part three, we saw how they fared as pass catchers in terms of overall efficiency, against man and zone coverage, and in different depths of the field.

Today we’ll wrap up the series by continuing to focus on their impact catching the football, especially on 3rd/4th down, in the red zone, and out of the slot.

3rd + 4th Down

Let’s start by looking at 3rd and 4th down, when stakes are high and players need to produce a first down to move the chains and avoid a punt. The table below shows how frequently and effectively Kmet and Everett were targeted in these high-leverage situations in 2023. Data is from Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder, ranks in parentheses are compared to the 26 NFL TEs with 50 or more targets, and ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

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

A few thoughts:

  • Both players see a slightly lower than average share of their targets come on 3rd/4th down, and turn those targets into 1st downs at roughly average rates.
  • To think of the volume another way, Kmet saw 20% of the available targets on 1st/2nd down and 14% of the available targets on 3rd/4th down in 2023. Everett saw 12% of available early down targets and only 9% of late down targets.
    • These trends carries over from 2022 (Kmet 23% early down target share, 11% late down target share; Everett 13% and 9%).
  • In short, both players are expected to be more involved in the passing game on early downs than 3rd/4th down. This is perfectly fine, considering both DJ Moore and Keenan Allen are high-volume, high-efficiency targets on these downs. Those two should function as the primary threats on 3rd/4th down in 2024.

Red Zone

Now let’s shift to examine Chicago’s TEs in the red zone in 2023. Once again, data is from the Game Play Finder, ranks are compared to the 26 NFL TEs with 50 or more targets, and ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • Here we see the script flipped from 3rd/4th down, as both Kmet and Everett see a high % of their targets in the red zone.
    • This matches trends from past years, as Kmet was at 14% and Everett 17% in 2022.
    • Looking at target share – the % of overall targets that each player receives – tells the same story.
      • Kmet received 17% of the available targets outside of the red zone in 2023, but that jumped to 21% in the red zone. 2022 saw the same trends (18% out of red zone, 25% in red zone).
      • In 2023, Everett saw 11% of the available targets outside of the red zone, which increased to 13% in the red zone. This matched 2022 trends (12% out of red zone, 14% in red zone).
  • In that high volume of targets, both players generally did a good job of turning their targets into catches, and a solid job of turning them into either a 1st down or TD.
  • Red zone production was a real area of growth for Kmet in 2022, so it’s good to see him continue to build on that in 2023, proving that it was not a one-year fluke.
  • I have been critical of Everett throughout this series, and do no think he will have a huge role in the offense when everybody is healthy, but I do expect him to feature prominently in red zone packages.
  • Red zone production was the one red flag in the cumulative profile of Chicago’s WR trio, so it’s extremely reassuring to see both tight ends have a knack for producing here. This is yet another way in which Chicago’s weapons complement each other quite well.

Slot Production

Let’s end now with thinking about TEs in the slot. This section is primarily going to focus on Cole Kmet, since he’s expected to be the main slot TE in 2024. All data presented here comes from Pro Football Focus (PFF).

  • We saw in part 1 that Waldron uses his TE1 in the slot at a far higher rate than his TE2 or TE3 (27% of snaps in the slot for TE1 vs. 17% for TE2/3).
  • We also saw in part 1 that Kmet has played a slightly higher % of slot snaps than Everett over the last 3 years (31% vs. 28%), but the difference in slot involvement in the passing game is far greater than that. Kmet has seen vastly more slot targets (110 vs. 65) and a significantly higher higher percentage of his targets have come in the slot (44% vs. 30%).

With that in mind, let’s look at how effective Kmet was operating out of the slot last year. The table below shows how he fared in a variety of stats compared to 39 players (WR/TE combined) with 40+ targets out of the slot. 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:

  • Overall, Kmet posted a high catch rate but was otherwise not very efficient, as he ranked below average in every other category, and in the bottom 25% in several.
    • This is in large part due to a very short average target depth, which meant that his high catch rate didn’t necessarily result in a lot of yards.
    • That marks a distinct shift from his slot usage in 2022, when he saw deeper passes (10.9 air yards/target), posted a 65% catch rate, and had a much more respectable 8.0 yards/target.
    • Of course, 2022 also saw Kmet targeted in the slot only about half as often (8.7 routes/target).
  • It is reasonable to think some of this might be due to comparing a TE to WRs, who should be expected to run different routes and be utilized differently even if they line up in the same area.
    • However, that theory doesn’t hold up if you look at the other TE in the sample. 10 of the 39 players with 40+ slot targets were tight ends, and compared to that group Kmet still ranked below average in most of the categories (8th in air yards/target, 7th in yards/target, 9th in yards/catch).
  • I’m not super concerned about this, however, because I expect Kmet’s slot target numbers to drop significantly this year.
    • New OC Shane Waldron has never utilized TEs as slot weapons all that much. Seattle’s primary pass-catching TE only saw 27% of their targets in the slot from 21-23, compared to 44% for Kmet.
    • Couple that with the addition of Keenan Allen, who primarily operates out of the slot, and I think we can expect to see a meaningful decrease in Kmet’s slot targets this year.
    • To put more hard numbers on that, Kmet has averaged 37 slot targets per year in the last 3 seasons. If he had seen only 27% of his targets come from the slot, that would drop to 23 targets/year.
    • I am also figuring Kmet’s total target volume will drop in 2024 due to the abundance of weapons the Bears now have, so I would anticipate he probably sees 20 or fewer slot targets this year.
    • Overall, I think Kmet’s slot usage in 2024 probably more closely will match what we saw in 2022, when WRs Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney saw more slot targets than Kmet, which kept his usage lower but efficiency higher.

Final Thoughts

We’re now 1300 words in on this article, and about 6000 words into this TE series, so it’s time to wrap it up with some final takeaways:

  • Cole Kmet is good, and well-rounded. He can line up inline or in the slot, can block and catch, and has very few weaknesses in his game.
    • He has continued to improve year over year, getting appreciably better on 3rd/4th down, in the red zone, and against zone defense in the last few years. He should be expected to continue to improve over the next few years, as he is just now entering his prime.
    • In terms of specific strengths, Kmet is a high-volume, effective weapon against zone who does most of his damage underneath. This profile closely matches that of Keenan Allen, and these two players should serve as Caleb Williams’ safety blankets.
    • Kmet only has one noticeable weakness in his profile, which is that he struggles to produce against man coverage. This also matches Keenan Allen’s profile a bit, and DJ Moore and Rome Odunze should be expected to be the main weapons against man.
  • Gerald Everett doesn’t provide much as a blocker, which seemingly makes him a poor fit in Shane Waldron’s offense.
    • On top of that, he showed marked declines as a receiver in 2023, especially against man coverage and on passes down the field. This is eerily reminiscent of Robert Tonyan’s profile when he came to the Bears, and makes me worried that Everett might be washed up.
    • Overall, Everett seems to offer the least of Chicago’s main 6 skill position players, which makes me suspect his role will be fairly limited when everybody is healthy.
  • One area where neither Kmet or Everett are heavily involved is on 3rd/4th down, where both consistently see a lower target share than on early downs. Keenan Allen and DJ Moore should be expected to be the primary weapons on these downs.
  • One area where both Kmet and Everett shine is in the red zone, which is probably the largest weakness Chicago’s WRs have as a group. The tight ends should feature prominently as weapons when the Bears get near the end zone.

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