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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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).

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Projecting Cole Kmet’s Contract Extension

| June 14th, 2023


In the last two days, we’ve looked in depth at tight end Cole Kmet’s production, and found that he’s not going to be a guy you build your passing attack around, but has proven he’s a solid secondary receiving weapon who fits well in Chicago’s current offense. We also saw earlier this offseason that Kmet is a solid run blocker, which the Bears clearly value in this scheme.

Since he has finished three years in the NFL, Kmet is eligible for an early contract extension that could lock him in to Chicago through his prime. Ryan Poles stated earlier this offseason that he would be looking to sign a few key young players to extensions before the season starts, and Kmet seems like the most obvious candidate there.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the tight end market to see what Kmet’s deal could end up looking like.


Favorable Comparisons (Kmet)

Let’s start by looking at contracts Cole Kmet’s camp will point to as deals signed by comparable players. The table below shows five such deals signed by tight ends in the last two years.

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A Tight Look at the 2023 Tight Ends, Part II: Depth, Downs & Dimensions

| June 13th, 2023

In Part I, we saw that both Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan are used more against zone than man coverage, and today we’re going to look at their involvement in the passing game through a number of other lenses.


Targets by Depth

Let’s start by looking at how frequently and effectively Chicago’s tight ends were targeted at various depths of the field. The table below shows their stats compared to 29 NFL tight ends with 50+ targets in 2022. Areas where they ranked in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while areas in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red. All data is from Pro Football Focus (PFF). 

(Side note: sorry if the formatting is poor for the graph. You can click on it to see it in a new window in full if it’s not showing up right for you.)



A few thoughts:

  • The first thing that stands out is that both Kmet and Tonyan were heavily targeted on screen passes behind the line of scrimmage. Kmet in particular was good at converting these into yards by running well with the ball after the catch, a skill that he also showed in 2021 and the Bears did a good job of utilizing more frequently in 2022.
  • Looking at Kmet beyond the line of scrimmage, he was rarely targeted in the intermediate range, but he was highly productive there when targeted. This closely matches Justin Fields’ passing profile in 2022, so hopefully Fields can target that area more aggressively in 2023 and Kmet can benefit.
  • Part of that improving talent comes from Tonyan, who excelled in the short game but didn’t do much down the field.
    • The downfield struggles are a distinct change from 2020, when 35% of Tonyan’s targets were at least ten yards downfield and he caught 75% of those passes for 16.1 yards/target.
    • Like we said in Part I, 2023 will be year two after his knee injury, which is when many players return closer to their pre-injury norms, and 2020 (pre-injury) Tonyan was a significantly better player than the 2022 version.

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A Tight Look at the 2023 Tight Ends, Part I: Total Usage & Man v. Zone

| June 12th, 2023

All of a sudden, the Bears’ TE room looks fairly stacked, as they return Cole Kmet – who led the team in receiving in 2022 – and added veteran Robert Tonyan as their TE2. As you can see in the table below, this gives Chicago two TEs who put up starting-caliber volume in 2022.



Of course, volume isn’t everything.

It is also worth exploring how efficient a player was with the targets they received. The table below shows some basic efficiency stats for Kmet and Tonyan in 2022, as well as ranks relative to the 29 NFL tight ends who saw at least 50 targets. The spread of outcomes for those 29 players is also shown to give more context overall. Any areas where a player ranked in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while the bottom 25% are highlighted in red. The table also includes Kmet’s stats from 2020 and 2021 to see how his efficiency has changed throughout his career.



A few thoughts:

  • Kmet saw his volume drop from 93 to 69 targets in 2022, but his efficiency skyrocketed. This shows both Kmet’s growth as a player and a new offensive scheme that aligns with his skill set.
    • As we saw when looking at Jusin Fields earlier this offseason, the Bears used play action far more in 2022 than they did in 2021, and that deception was able to help free Kmet and mask his athletic deficiencies as a route runner. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to stats on play action for receivers, but this film study with Kmet shows a number of his big plays from 2022 coming when he was uncovered due to play action.
    • With the addition of DJ Moore this offseason, plus the return to health of Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney, it’s reasonable to assume Kmet will be farther down the receiving order in 2023. He might see a decrease in total targets for a 2nd year in a row, but an efficient secondary weapon in the passing game can be extremely valuable.

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Fields in Focus (8/8): Final Takeaways and the Future Outlook

| May 12th, 2023

Today is the last of eight articles taking a closer look at Justin Fields’ 2022 season.


Lessons Learned

Let’s start with a brief recap of some of the main takeaways from the series so far:

  • Fields experienced moderate growth as a passer from his rookie season but did not make “the leap” that you typically see from great quarterbacks in year two.
  • Fields shows very clear strengths (throwing the ball deep, running) and weaknesses (short, quick passes and taking too many sacks). This leads to plenty of big plays but also far too many negative ones.
  • Evaluating Fields becomes difficult due to the poor supporting cast around him.
    • This especially showed up with the offensive line in the pressure data. Fields is always going to be a quarterback who holds the ball for a bit longer than most, meaning that he is particularly dependent on a quality offensive line to make that style work.
    • This showed up most clearly with the pass catchers when looking at how bad Chicago’s non-Mooney WRs were against man coverage. Nobody else was able to get open, and Chicago’s entire offense suffered as a result.

Year Three Growth

Now let’s look at how Fields compares to a trio of recent QBs who had year three breakouts: Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, and Josh Allen. The table below shows their statistics in year two vs. year three of their careers, and Justin Fields’ data for year two in 2022.



A few thoughts:

  • Looking at the other three QBs, I don’t think Tua Tagovailoa is a very good comparison. He doesn’t use his legs much and is generally a shorter passer with a high completion percentage. His year three breakout was driven by a new coach/offense and pushing the ball deeper (his average target depth increased from 7.0 yards to 9.6 yards), and none of that is related to Fields.
  • Hurts and Allen, on the other hand, are pretty similar stylistically to Fields in that they hold the ball longer and push the ball down the field, which generally results in a lower completion percentage. Their year two stats line up pretty well with Fields’, with the exception of Fields being sacked significantly more.
    • Improvement for both in year three coincided with them taking more of the easy stuff. According to PFF, Allen and Hurts both increased their rate of short throws (54% to 58% for Allen, 52% to 61% for Hurts) and decreased their deep shots (15% to 13% for Allen, 16% to 13% for Hurts). They didn’t completely change their play style but became a bit more willing to take the easy yards underneath, which helped them complete more passes, gain more yards per attempt, and avoid more interceptions. Fields had a similar year 2 passing profile (55% passes behind the line or short, 16% deep), and he should look to make those same changes in 2023.
    • Hurts and Allen both saw their rushing efficiency decrease in year three compared to year two, which is also a reasonable expectation for Fields after his rushing came close to setting NFL records last year. This study found that running QBs often see passing efficiency improve in year three, and that these QBs become less dependent on needing to use their legs as they become more effective through the air.

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Zooming in on the Blockers, Vol. 3: Center, TE, WR

| March 8th, 2023


Prior days explored the tackles and guards, and today will focus on center, with a bonus glance at tight end and wide receiver blocking.

Center

Let’s start with center, the last position on the offensive line and an area that has been held down exclusively by Sam Mustipher for the last two seasons.

Pass Blocking

The table below shows how Mustipher held up in pass protection compared to the 39 centers around the NFL who had at least 200 pass blocking snaps. All data is from Pro Football Focus (PFF), and true pass sets are intended to remove plays designed to minimize the pass rush, such as screens, play action, and rollout. Cells highlighted in green indicate a rank in the top 25%, while red indicates the bottom 25%.



There’s really only one takeaway here: Sam Mustipher is awful in pass protection. Every column that’s not red just missed the cutoff. (Every Bears fan already knows this, so I don’t think we’re breaking any new ground.)

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Dannehy: Bears Should Prioritize Offensive Line

| January 26th, 2023


There is no foolproof method to build an NFL team, but as the Chicago Bears head into a crucial offseason, they should prioritize strengthening their offensive line.

As the debate about offensive line vs. wide receiver rages across the Twittersphere, it’s important to take a step back, look at what the Bears have on their roster and how they can best maximize that talent. That starts with quarterback Justin Fields, who has flaws as a passer, but has shown great touch on deep balls and is as electric a runner as there has been in the league, at any position.

Playing his first two seasons behind a subpar offensive line hasn’t allowed Fields to showcase his ability as a passer. At Ohio St., he did most of his damage from inside the pocket – his 4.4 speed was seen as a bonus. But there haven’t been clean pockets to work from in Chicago, which has made evaluating the quarterback that much more difficult.

When the Bears have kept the pocket clean, Fields has shown the ability to go through his progressions and make the right read. Furthermore, it allows the team to open up his greatest asset as a passer: the deep ball.

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