Ryan Pace is going to find Matt Nagy a star tight end or he's going to get fired trying.
On Friday, with the No. 43 pick -- and their first pick -- in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears selected Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet, making him the first tight end off the board in the draft and the 10th tight end on the Bears' roster. No, you didn't misread that. The Bears now have 10 -- TEN -- tight ends.
The Bears currently have TEN tight ends on their roster.— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 25, 2020
- Cole Kmet
- Jimmy Graham
- Ben Braunecker
- Darion Clark
- Demetrius Harris
- J.P. Holtz
- Jesper Horset
- Dax Raymond
- Eric Saubert
- Adam Shaheen pic.twitter.com/X6ELVGeamk
It's currently against CDC guidelines for all the Bears TEs to be in the same room together— Nader Issa (@NaderDIssa) April 25, 2020
Kmet's selection at No. 43 comes three years after Pace used the No. 45 pick on Adam Shaheen, who demonstrated promise as a rookie, but has failed to develop into a starting-caliber tight end or live up to his "Baby Gronk" moniker, two years after Pace signed Trey Burton to a big contract that never worked out (he was cut earlier this offseason), and in the same offseason that already saw Pace sign Jimmy Graham to a two-year deal that includes $9 million in guaranteed money.
Pace is obsessed with finding a tight end for Nagy's system, but to this point, he's failed to do so.
A year ago, the Bears' leading tight end in terms of receptions was Burton. He caught 14 passes. Their leading tight end in terms of yards was J.P. Holtz. He racked up 91 yards. Their leading tight end in terms of touchdowns were Ben Braunecker and Jesper Horsted. They caught one touchdown apiece.
In that sense, the Bears had a clear and urgent need at tight end, which is why Pace felt the need to overpay for Graham in free agency. At this point in his career, Graham is nothing more than a red zone threat. Since 2015, his first season outside of New Orleans, Graham has averaged 626.2 yards and 4.6 touchdowns per season. Sure, those are substantially better numbers than what the Bears got out of their tight ends a season ago, but they're not the kind of numbers to justify the contract Pace handed Graham -- just like how the contract Pace handed Burton never made much sense. In 2018, Pace gave Burton a four-year, $32 million contract even though Burton's career-highs with the Eagles from 2014-17 were 327 yards in 2016 and five touchdowns in 2017. Across two seasons with the Bears, Burton dealt with injury issues, catching only 68 passes for 653 yards and six touchdowns.
In Kmet, the Bears are getting the best tight end in the draft who has been compared to Rams tight end Tyler Higbee by NFL.com's Lance Zierlein and Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph by our own Ryan Wilson. At Notre Dame last season, Kmet caught 43 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns. He's not as flashy as the tight ends in last year's draft -- like T.J. Hockenson, who went to the Lions at No. 8 -- but he should upgrade the position for the Bears as they look to rebound from a disappointing 8-8 season.
"Cole Kmet, in my opinion is the best tight end in this draft... Chicago Bears getting, whether it's Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky, some help now this offseason. Jimmy Graham the veteran, and now Cole Kmet..."@Brady_Quinn approves of the Bears first pick of the NFL draft. pic.twitter.com/fnP0ieMJWm— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) April 25, 2020
With Kmet on the roster, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the Bears try to move Shaheen, who is still only 25 years old. Out of the 10 tight ends on the roster, the only two locks are Graham and Kmet. The rest of the depth chart is in flux.
For Kmet, it's "a dream come true." He grew up near Chicago. He played college ball nearby at Notre Dame. Now, he's heading to his hometown team.
This raw emotion is everything - via new #Bears TE Cole Kmet’s Instagram account #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/FgzQsb49n9— Samantha Rivera (@SamanthaSports) April 25, 2020
But there's a reasonable argument to be made that the Bears reached for Kmet. Even though he was Ryan Wilson's top tight end, he ranked 67th overall on Wilson's big board. The Bears have more urgent needs than tight end -- like at cornerback and safety after losing Prince Amukamara and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix this offseason. When the Bears took Kmet, players like LSU safety Grant Delpit and Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. were available. They were off the board two picks later.
So, consider it good news then that the Bears found a way to fill their glaring hole at cornerback with their second second-round pick at No. 50, getting a steal in Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson, a player who was very much in the first-round mix. Johnson fills a more urgent need than Kmet. Funnily enough, Johnson was ranked 68th on Wilson's big board -- one spot behind Kmet.
If both Johnson and Kmet play up to their potential, the Bears will have found two impact-now players in the draft despite not having a first-round pick. Even if only one of the two develop into impact-now players, the Bears will have made out just fine given the circumstances. But if it's Kmet who fails to make the transition from college to the NFL, Pace's already suspect resume will once again be scrutinized. Then again, if Kmet is everything Pace clearly thinks he is, nobody will criticize him for using his first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to add a 10th tight end to a roster with holes at other positions. It's not like the other nine tight ends on the Bears' roster are great -- or good, for that matter. And Kmet has a chance to be great.