Position preview: Are Bears set at tight end with Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham?
Kmet is an unproven up-and-comer and Graham seems to be winding down his career. After that, the Bears have minimal help at a vital position.
The Bears did what everyone wanted them to do a year ago and used their top pick, No. 43 overall, to take the best tight end in the draft in Cole Kmet. They hoped that would solve a persistent problem, but it’s still unknown if Kmet will grow into a dependable threat in the passing attack.
They’ll go into this season betting on Kmet taking the next step — tight ends usually need a full season to adapt to the NFL — and Jimmy Graham, 34, duplicating the decent production he gave them last season. With limited picks and other more pressing needs, tight end will be on the back burner in the draft.
But the Bears still need somebody, so they’ll probably go fishing in the late rounds for an athletic, pass-catching tight end with the potential to develop into a nice complement to Kmet.
Kmet progressed throughout his rookie season, so it’s reasonable to expect that trajectory to continue. After the bye week, he played at least 70% of the offensive snaps every game, though his production was modest. Kmet had only three games with more than two catches and never reached 50 receiving yards in a game. He looks like he’ll be a solid player but might not be the game-changing pass catcher the Bears need.
With the win-or-get-fired scenario general manager Ryan Pace seemingly is facing this season, he’ll be looking to find instant starters in the first three rounds at Nos. 20, 52 and 83. The Bears need help on the offensive line, at cornerback and possibly at wide receiver and could use a safety. And that’s assuming they don’t bite on a quarterback after likely getting shut out in the first round.
That leaves Pace a fifth-rounder and four picks in the sixth round to search for a tight end geared more toward 2022 and beyond. The best candidates who could be available that late are BYU’s Matt Bushman, Jacksonville State’s Trae Barry and SMU’s Kylen Granson. All are long shots at that point and will be long-term investments for the Bears.
Grading the Bears’ need: Medium to low. Proceeding with Cole Kmet and Jimmy Graham isn’t a terrible plan for 2021, and it would be hard to justify taking a tight end early one year after drafting Kmet in the second round. The Bears probably need one more season to see if he truly has the potential to be a big-time receiver. Until then, it’s a smart time to take on a project late in the draft.
On the roster: Kmet, Graham, J.P. Holtz, Darion Clark, Jesper Horsted.
The five best prospects: Florida’s Kyle Pitts, Miami’s Brevin Jordan, Notre Dame’s Tommy Tremble, Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth and Boston College’s Hunter Long.
Keep an eye on: BYU’s Matt Bushman. There was a lot of interest in him heading into last season, but he tore his Achilles before the season began. That could slide him to the sixth round, which would line up nicely for the Bears at No. 204, 208, 221 or 228. He’s an athletic receiver at 6-5, 245 pounds and had 688 yards and four touchdowns as a junior.
Close to home: Notre Dame’s Tremble had a modest college career but has shot up draft boards lately thanks to a strong pro day in which he clocked a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash — exceptional for a tight end.