Cole Kmet: Where is the Love?

Mike Miklius (@SIRL0INofBEEF) takes a deeper look at Cole Kmet and his prospects for the 2022 fantasy season.

Each season, fantasy managers face the same dilemma: do I draft Travis Kelce in the first round at the expense of an RB1, or do I stream some combination of Mike Gesicki, David Njoku, Dawson Knox, and whatever else is stuck to the bottom of my shoe? ‘Look at those athletic profiles. Did you see the catch Gesicki made in the preseason? Njoku just got that huge deal. They’re for sure throwing to him this year!’ I can hear it through my monitor. I know, because I’ve made all the same arguments. Each year, we try to talk ourselves into the same list of could-be weapons again and again. It just never seems to pay off. Instead, I want someone young. I want someone who could still break out and who has the opportunity to eat up targets if their talent hits. I want Cole Kmet.

 

Last Season

 

Many have soured on Kmet thanks to expecting a breakout last year and not getting it. Here are the number from Kmet’s first two years in the league:

 

Age Snap Share Targets Receptions Yards YAC TDs Target Share Red Zone Targets Red Zone Target Share
2020 21 54.9% 44 28 243 134 2 7.4% 6 6.8%
2021 22 83.7% 93 60 612 246 0 17.7% 12 19.7%

 

It’s fair to call 2020 completely unimpressive. We know that tight end is often a slow-to-develop position, and anyone that was hyping a big rookie year was frankly being unrealistic. That said, Kmet still saw roughly three targets per game and found the end zone twice his first year. Jumping forward to 2021, we see exactly the type of development we wanted in every area but one: touchdowns. Kmet was on the field for almost every snap, and he saw huge gains in targets, receptions, and yardage. He just didn’t find the endzone. I love this type of player because it quickly turns people off. If they don’t immediately see touchdown upside, they lose interest. Kmet could be bad in the red zone. That’s of course true. He could also, however, have just run into some bad luck. I like the direction these stats are headed, and I’m happy to take a shot at further growth. Even modest gains would at least pay off Kmet’s humble ADP. What do we think the conversation around Kmet would be if he had exactly the same stat line except with 4 touchdowns?

 

Touchdown Regression

 

This sticking point feels like it deserves its own header. Cole Kmet saw the most targets of any tight end in the league who didn’t catch a touchdown last year. In fact, here’s the list of tight ends who have seen 45+ targets or 35+ receptions in the last five years and not scored a touchdown: {cricket noises}. That’s right, Kmet is the only one. Jared Cook was blanked in 2015 despite 75 targets and 39 receptions, but he otherwise averaged four touchdowns per season in his career. Jordan Reed didn’t find the endzone in 2014 despite 69 targets and 50 receptions. Over the last five years of his career, he’s averaged five touchdowns per game. Cole Kmet is either terrible in the red zone, or he’s a bit unlucky. It could be the former, but I’m betting on the latter. Let me look at this topic another way: are you out on Kyle Pitts, who caught one touchdown on 110 targets? Pitts is the poster child for tight-end hype, and I know everyone is willing to forgive him for his lack of scores. I simply ask the same benefit of the doubt for Kmet, who can be had eight rounds later. So, what should our touchdown expectations be? If we used Kmet’s TD rate from his first season, based on targets we would have expected a jump to 4.2 scores. Using receptions, it would be 4.3 scores. Doing the same with yardage would give us 5.0 scores. If Kmet had found the end zone four times last year, I’m guessing Kmet wouldn’t be a sleeper at all.

In addition to Kmet’s likely positive regression, we can add the team finally parting ways with veteran tight end Jimmy Graham. Bears fans can tell you that Graham had an annoying habit of stealing red zone looks from everyone else on the roster and frequently having plays designed for him–despite a lack of remaining athleticism. Graham was a thorn in the side of every fantasy manager who rostered David Montgomery, Cole Kmet, and Darnell Mooney. It’s not just Graham leaving though. Jesse James and Jesper Horsted have also left town. This means that Kmet is the only remaining tight end on the roster who saw at least five targets last year. Kmet truly has no competition–or excuses–left. Even if Kmet’s targets, receptions, and yardage stayed the same, I would still expect more scores.

 

Offensive Improvement

 

Further explaining Kmet’s struggles last season would be the Bears’ offense as a whole. Head Coach Matt Nagy looked like a genius in 2018 when his team went 12-4 and was poised to dominate in the playoffs. Things quickly changed, and we all remember the double-doink to end Chicago’s dreams. Things completely fell apart soon after. Here are some highlights to summarize the Matt-Nagy tenure:

  • Frequent runs up the middle with Tarik Cohen–a 5’6″ running back known for speed and shiftiness in open space.
  • Rare rollouts for Mitch Trubisky–a quarterback who struggled reading the field but had great athleticism
  • A fixation on throwing to Jimmy Graham in the red zone
  • Giving preseason first-team reps to Andy Dalton and naming him the starter over Justin Fields, despite the team clearly needing to look towards the future.
  • Repeatedly giving the ball to Damien Williams, even after the Khalil Herbert breakout.
  • Being an ‘offensive genius’ whose teams ranked 21st, 30th, 22nd, and 25th in passing yards during his four-year tenure.

This offense looked out of sorts last season, and it showed. Here are the final offensive stats, along with their ranks:

 

Pass Yds Pass TD INT Rush Yds Rush TD Total Yds Yds per Play
2021 3207 16 20 2018 14 5225 4.9
Ranks 30th 29th 2nd 14th T-18th 24th 27th

 

I still think Matt Nagy was a good coach at one point. His 2018 team ran clever plays and generally kept opponents off balance in the red zone. He lost it somewhere along the way, and 2021 was hard to watch. I think part of Kmet’s low ADP is the expected terrible state of the Bears in the coming year. The Vegas over-under is only 5.5 wins after people hammered the under on the original line of 6.5 wins. So why should it be any better in Chicago? Enter new Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy. Getsy was the WR coach for Davante Adams during his initial breakout, and then the QB coach and passing coordinator during his latest stint in Green Bay–when Aaron Rodgers won his last two MVPs. The Packers were obviously a much better offense, and I’m not going to draw close comparisons. Justin Fields isn’t Aaron Rodgers (shock face) and Darnell Mooney isn’t Davante Adams. Still, even a positive turn to ‘league average’ for the Bears–or even just not painfully incompetent–would be an enormous windfall to Cole Kmet and the other receiving weapons. Just look at what Robert Tonyan was able to accomplish in 2020.

 

Opportunity

 

I never want the crux of my argument to be “But who else do they have?” or “There are all these vacated targets that have¬†to go to someone!” If I don’t believe in you as a player, you probably won’t get the potential volume anyways. That being said, available targets are important if we like the talent they could go to. Travis Kelce was only battling Tyreek Hill for Patrick Mahomes‘ love last season. Mark Andrews only contended with Marquise Brown. George Kittle first broke out against Kendrick Bourne and Pierre Garcon. If there’s one thing the Chicago Bears are going to lead the league in this coming season, it’ll be opportunity for qualified receiving threats! Here is the Bears’ wide receiver depth chart in no particular order: Darnell Mooney, Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle, Velus Jones Jr, N’Keal Harry, Dazz Newsome, Dante Pettis, and Tajae Sharpe. Even if we combined everyone but Mooney into a single guy, he would have posted 142 targets, 98 receptions, 1167 yards, and 6 touchdowns last season. Behind Kmet at tight end, we have Ryan Griffin (42/ 27/ 261/ 2), James O’Shaughnessy (34/ 24/ 244/ 0), and undrafted rookie Chase Allen. As for the running backs, David Montgomery is a decent pass-catcher, but not a true threat to demand workload. Khalil Herbert already has a bad drop in the preseason. Needless to say, there is a ridiculous amount of opportunity in Chicago for Kmet if you believe he is talented, or at least that he is due more growth as a player. Why should we expect him to grow more, though?

 

Breakout Age

 

Cole Kmet turned 23 in March. That’s young for a two-year veteran: just ask Velus Jones Jr. It is rare for a tight end to break out at such a young age. Here are some recent top tight ends and their breakout ages–as well as the season when they broke out. For the purposes of a breakout, I chose the first season where each player was able to average 50+ yards and 4+ receptions per game. I also added Cole Kmet’s numbers from last season in the bottom row.

 

Name Age Season Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Kyle Pitts 21 1 110 68 1026 1
Mark Andrews 24 2 98 64 852 10
Travis Kelce 25 2 87 67 862 5
George Kittle 25 2 136 88 1377 5
Rob Gronkowski 22 2 124 90 1327 17
Darren Waller 27 4 117 90 1145 3
Zach Ertz 25 3 112 75 853 2
Cole Kmet (2021) 22 2 93 60 612 0

 

Aside from Kyle Pitts, every other tight end needed at least one year of experience before they were ready to make the leap. Five of these seven players didn’t break out until at least age 24. Kmet has the youth–and stats from last year–to suggest we could see more this season.

 

ADP and Wrapping up

 

Right now, Cole Kmet is going in the late eleventh round of fantasy drafts. He is basically free, considering you could draft four running backs, four wide receivers, and your starting QB before worrying about the position. With that low price, you get a player who:

  • showed significant statistical improvement from year one to year two
  • is due positive touchdown regression from last season and has a depressed ADP as a result
  • should be on an improved offense
  • is battling only Darnell Mooney for targets
  • is young enough to still be a breakout at the position into the elite range

This is plenty for me to get excited about, and I will be leaving every redraft league with Cole Kmet this year.

 

Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

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