Viator alum Kmet should be first tight end taken in draft. Could he end up on Bears?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. St. Viator product Kmet established himself as the top tight end in the 2020 draft after a strong combine showing.

    Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. St. Viator product Kmet established himself as the top tight end in the 2020 draft after a strong combine showing. Associated Press

 
By Arthur Arkush
aarkush@profootballweekly
Updated 3/5/2020 7:32 AM

Cole Kmet established himself at last week's combine as the top tight end in the 2020 draft class. His position-leading vertical (37 inches) and broad (123 inches) jumps and 4.7-second 40-yard dash at 6-6 and 262 pounds confirms his athleticism, while not quite elite, is an asset that meshes well with his ascending skill set, projecting the former St. Viator and Notre Dame star in a productive NFL role.

The challenge now, of course, for NFL teams is accurately projecting his draft value and visualizing the short- and long-term scale of that role.

 

First on the clock at No. 43 overall, Ryan Pace appears to be right in the sweet spot to potentially make Kmet the first tight end off the board. Sure, Kmet could go earlier, but with all the premium talent at quarterback, offensive tackle and corner, a team arguably would be reaching a bit in a shallow TE class.

Yet with at least three TE-needy teams -- including those with impending free agents who have been rumored as potential Bears targets, the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons -- picking before Chicago returns to the clock at No. 50, if the Bears truly covet Kmet, they can't risk the wait.

Is No. 43 too rich for Kmet? Matt Nagy's BFF Doug Pederson and the Eagles traded second- and fifth-rounders to move up three spots and secure at No. 49 overall South Dakota State product Dallas Goedert as the third tight end off the board in 2018, after Hayden Hurst (No. 26 overall to Baltimore) and Mike Gesicki (43rd to Miami).

When factoring in resumes, skill sets and plug-and-play potential, we don't think it's a stretch to say Kmet is the best TE prospect of the bunch. Like Hurst, he's a former star pitcher, but Kmet enters the league four years younger, with more room for growth and a higher ceiling.

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Gesicki undoubtedly has the elite athleticism that Kmet lacks but not the physical two-way "Y" profile. Goedert is more explosive and a bit freakier physically than Kmet but tussled in college with the likes of Missouri State and James Madison, not exactly Michigan and Georgia.

Of course we'd be remiss without mentioning the best NFL tight end to date from the 2018 class was selected a full round later than Goedert and two full rounds later than Hurst -- Mark Andrews, whom the Ravens paired with Hurst and some guy named Lamar Jackson.

Andrews is the latest in a line of NFL stars at the position like George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Austin Hooper and Jimmy Graham, to name a few, selected in Round 3 or later, including in some drafts perceived as weak or weaker at the position than this year. So perhaps that can offer the Bears some solace if they're compelled to wait on a tight end and fill other needs.

It may not be sexy, but drafting the hometown kid to fill the team's greatest need with their first selection would be akin to a ringing double in the gap, if not a walk-off home run. And we'd consider it more prudent than breaking the bank on Hooper.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

We did mention in our tight end piece from Indy prior to the official workouts that Stephen Sullivan (LSU) and Albert Okwuegbunam (Mizzou), in addition to Stanford's Colby Parkinson, could be nice Kmet consolation prizes, albeit different stylistically, as seam-stretching mismatch pieces.

Little did we know at the time that Okwuegbunam, at 6-5 and 258 pounds, would run a 4.49 40-yard dash to pace the tight ends, and Sullivan, who clocked a 4.66 at 6-5 and 248 pounds, would tie Brycen Hopkins at No. 2 in the event, trailed immediately by Kmet.

That obviously also could put their stock on the rise, but there are enough questions regarding Okwuegbunam's play speed and inconsistent production and Sullivan's raw resume that they could remain in play early on Day 3, if not late on Day 2, should the Bears opt to trade back and add a third-rounder. One wild card we failed to mention: like new assistants Bill Lazor and Juan Castillo, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, in his year out of the NFL in 2018, assisted the University of Missouri program as an analyst. He worked with the defense, but rest assured he'll have a good read on why Okwuegbunam came on like gangbusters in 2017-18 prior to last year's drop-off.

We also should add that while two other intriguing prospects in this TE class, "The Bryants" (Harrison from FAU and Hunter from UW), were authoring disappointing combine workouts, Virginia Tech's Swiss Army Knife Dalton Keene tested like the best athlete in the class. Keene aligned all over the formation for the Hokies, profiling as the type of "mismatch" weapon with speed, agility and ball skills that Nagy loves.

Finally, could the Bears draft a "tight end" from Notre Dame not named Kmet? Chase Claypool played receiver in South Bend but was asked by some teams at the combine about a possible position switch. If there's anything we know about the Bears, they aren't shy about converting players to new roles, especially at tight end.

We also know they need speed wherever they can find it, and drafting Claypool to play a jumbo slot role given the durability questions of their two slots, "U" Trey Burton and wide receiver Anthony Miller, could make a ton of sense.

What doesn't make sense: How dudes this big move can move this fast.

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