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Saturday Spotlight: Cole Kmet, From Bears Fan to Bears Player

Throughout the 2020 NFL season, we’ll spotlight a Bears player in a weekly column. This week, we’ll take an in-depth look at Tight End Cole Kmet.

Chicago Bears v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Name: Cole Kmet

Position: Tight End

Nickname: Robocop

Number: 85

Age: 21

Time with Bears: Rookie

The Past:

“On first down and ten for the Bears. Trailing seven-nothing, here’s Foles throwing across his body. And It is CAUGHT! How did that get through?!”

Chances are, if you’ve played any of the Madden video games or even the now-defunct NFL 2K games, you know the feeling of creating a player, getting drafted by your favorite team, suiting up, scoring a touchdown and leading your squad to a title or two. That joy in seeing your name on the back of the jersey of an absolute stud; trucking AJ Hawk, stiff-arming Clay Matthews, hurdling Charles Woodson, and out-running Nick Collins as you take it 80 yards to pad the lead of a 76-0 blowout over Green Bay. OK, the NFL isn’t exactly like Madden, but Cole Kmet still gets to see his name on the back of the jersey of his hometown team.

Kmet grew up in Arlington Heights, IL, less than an hour drive from Grant Park. His father Frank had also grown up in northern Illinois, a Bears fan who signed with the Monsters of the Midway in 1993 after attending Purdue University and bouncing around a few NFL teams. Frank Kmet’s career never got off the ground, with a nasty leg injury derailing a chance at a promising career. He was moved around positionally in Chicago, and stayed on the practice squad until his eligibility ran out. From the Bears’ team website: “[Coach Dave] Wannstedt came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to move you over to the offensive line,’” Kmet said. “I said, ‘Do I have an option?’ He said, ‘Well, you have an option to go home.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll go to the offensive line.’”

The younger Kmet forged his own path, although a similar one, starting at Saint Viator High School in Arlington Heights. Early in his career at the Catholic prep school, then-16 year old Kmet committed to play for coach Brian Kelly at Notre Dame. His high school career took off the next year, when he caught 43 passes for 515 yards and 6 touchdowns. He followed that up by catching 48 passes his senior year, for 773 yards and 4 touchdowns. He capped off his stellar senior season off with an appearance in the Army All-American Game.

Like most freshmen at Notre Dame, Kmet saw limited playing time during his first year of college. He appeared in 4 games, but only caught 2 passes for 14 yards. Stuck behind fellow tight ends Alizé Mack and Durham Smythe in a spread offense which didn’t exactly favor tight ends (See: Equanimeous St. Brown, Chase Claypool), Kmet waited his turn to show the Fighting Irish what he could do.

Kmet saw his playing time significantly increase in his sophomore year, with Smythe graduating and being drafted by the Miami Dolphins. Kmet became the primary rotational player at tight end behind senior Mack. The sophomore had his best game that year against Navy, catching 4 passes for 31 yards. The next week he caught 2 passes for 41 yards, and he finished the year with 15 receptions and a great chance at starting his junior year.

Bowling Green v Notre Dame Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Kmet broke his collarbone in practice leading up to the 2019 season, sitting out the first 2 games while Notre Dame won both contests. A week 3 date with Georgia was productive for the junior tight end, catching 9 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown in a tough loss. He averaged 52 receiving yards per game through Notre Dame’s 3-game winning streak, but after week 7 he hit a lull in the season where he nearly disappeared from the stat sheet. The ship was righted as Notre Dame stomped on rival Boston College in the Holy War matchup, with Kmet leading all receivers with 78 yards on 7 catches. He finished the regular season with 515 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns, and played in the Camping World Bowl against Iowa State University.

The Present:

2020 NFL Draft - Rounds 2 - 7 Photo by Handout/NFL via Getty Images

It’s no stretch to say that the Bears tight end production in 2019 was lacking. Starter Trey Burton was hurt most of the year, Adam Shaheen was Adam Shaheen, and the Bears were forced to call multiple practice-squad players up to fill rotational rolls at a crucial position in this offense. Credit GM Ryan Pace for the work he’s done this past offseason. He didn’t revamp his tight end room, he blew it up. Just a month after signing high-dollar free agent Jimmy Graham to a 2-year contract, he used 1 of his 2nd round draft picks to select Kmet with the 43rd overall pick. Kmet was the first tight end off the board in the 2019 NFL draft, drafted by the team his father played for and he rooted for as a child.

Many were hoping Kmet would reward the Bears with immediate production, but he remains a rotational piece along with Demetrius Harris, behind Graham and at a position which still isn’t a strength of the Bears. Kmet caught his first touchdown in Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers, an absolute beauty of a snag in which he very clearly was not open at all. Quarterback Nick Foles trusted him to come down with it, and he jumped over 1 defender and between 2 others to secure the catch in the endzone. The following week against the Rams, Kmet again caught a pass in which he wasn’t open, a 37-yard grab down the sideline which requires a “You Got Mossed!” tagline to go along with it. Cole Kmet should benefit as much as any receiver on this team with the Bears switching to Nick Foles at quarterback, as Foles is willing to throw to people who aren’t open and trust them to come down with it.

The future:

Kmet is on his rookie deal, a 4-year contract which should keep him in a Bears uniform through at least 2023. His production in college indicates he’s a rhythm player, resembling a running back in needing a few reps to get his feet wet before he can really take off and light up a stat sheet. Rookie tight ends don’t have a great track record in general in the NFL, but Kmet has already shown he is ready to contribute at the NFL level. Once he starts taking snaps away from Demetrius Harris, Bears fans will hear his name called more often during games.

The Saints have an excellent defense, but an area where they have room for improvement is production against tight ends. They’ve allowed a touchdown to a tight end in every game they’ve played this season. Repeat: every game. New Orleans has also surrendered the 8th-most receptions and 9th-most yards to tight ends of all NFL teams. Graham should be a target in the red zone, and a likely candidate for that assumed touchdown, but Kmet could be the recipient of some high-yardage plays. This, of course, is assuming the offensive line can hold their blocks long enough for Foles to throw to anybody other than his checkdown.

Week 8 prediction:

3 targets, 3 receptions, 44 yards