ESPN’s Mike Tannenbaum clarifies criticism of Bears’ selection of Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet

Tannenbaum ignited a media flare-up between himself and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly by calling the pick “shockingly poor” and saying Kmet “can’t run.” He explained those comments in an interview with the Sun-Times on Wednesday.

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Cole Kmet clocked a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

Cole Kmet clocked a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

We’re in the biggest sports lull imaginable, so just about anything will suffice as tinder for a media firestorm.

The smoldering rage in Chicago this week originated from ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum shredding the Bears’ choice of Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet in the second round of the NFL Draft.

During a grueling 20 or so hours on the radio, Tannenbaum boiled over, called that selection “the worst pick of the draft” and ripped Kmet for being slow, which drew a sharp rebuke from Irish coach Brian Kelly.

Tannenbaum didn’t articulate exactly what he was thinking. He views Kmet as more of a classic in-line tight end — he is — instead of the basketball-style athlete that has dominated the position lately. He also thought the Bears should draft a cornerback.

But it didn’t quite come out that way.

“It’s not really about the player; it was more about how they approached the draft and their offseason,” Tannenbaum told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It just didn’t make any sense to me. I had their needs as corner, interior offensive lineman, maybe safety, then maybe a receiver. . . . I didn’t think that drafting a tight end was the most important thing to do.”

The Bears drafted Utah corner Jaylon Johnson seven picks later, but Tannenbaum had no way of knowing they’d do that when they took Kmet at No. 43.

His assessment of the Kmet pick is debatable, and that’s fine because ESPN pays Tannenbaum for opinions. His initial comments, though, were harsher than he intended.

“I think this is a shockingly poor pick,” he said on the broadcast. “They have 8 million tight ends, and they have so many other needs. This blows me away.

“They overpaid Jimmy Graham. They over-drafted Adam Shaheen. Of all the other things they need to do, why with their first pick are they adding a guy who can’t run? This is mind-boggling to me.”

Kelly immediately rejected that analysis.

“I guess Mike Tannenbaum knows more than all the NFL teams that have evaluated him,” he said. “I don’t remember Mike being at any of our practices as he ran down the middle of the field. He’s got plenty of speed. He’ll be able to utilize it against safeties and in nickel matchups. Speed will not be the issue with Cole Kmet.”

Kmet was productive in the passing game with 43 catches for 515 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games last season. He then clocked the fourth-fastest 40-yard dash time among tight ends at the combine at 4.7 seconds — very good for a player who’s 6-6 and 262 pounds.

“He’s big, he’s strong, he’s rugged, he can capture the edge in the run game, so he has elements that are special and unique that will help,” Tannenbaum said. “He is a point-of-attack, traditional, old-school Y. I don’t think he played to his timed speed.

“So there’s things I like a lot about his game. Those are definitively his strengths. And those guys are hard to find now. They’re old-school guys. . . . But I just don’t think you’re gonna make opposing defensive coordinators say, ‘Oh, my, how are we gonna defend Kmet?’ ”

As for the Bears having too many tight ends, that has been overblown. They had 10 with the addition of Kmet, then trimmed it to nine by cutting Dax Raymond. Teams usually keep three to five.

They have until the end of the preseason to decide whom they’re keeping, but most of those tight ends haven’t established themselves as clear-cut NFL players. Graham, Kmet and Demetrius Harris are the only ones sure to make the roster.

With Graham seemingly in decline and Harris never having been a focal point of a passing attack, it’s plausible that Kmet could lead the group in receiving as a rookie.

“Having a lot of tight ends on your roster is one thing,” Kelly said. “Having Cole Kmet, you know, that’s another.”

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