We are breaking down the Bears position groups this week as the team prepares for its Week 1 battle with the Packers at Soldier Field. In this edition, we’ll focus on Chicago’s tight ends Cole Kmet, Robert Tonyan, and Marcedes Lewis.
Cole Kmet had 10 red zone targets in 2022, tied for just 18th most among tight ends.
He scored 7 times, and no other tight end with 10 or fewer red zone targets scored more than 4 touchdowns.pic.twitter.com/eQXnGIB5xw
— Scott Spratt (@Scott_Spratt) September 5, 2023
Kmet took another big step forward with a career year in 2022, but the knock on him is that he’s not elite like Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, or T.J. Hockenson. Kmet’s target share rose to 19.3% last year and he scored seven times after being shutout in 2021. He did that despite 24 less opportunities because Kmet caught 72.5% of the passes thrown to him. His performance earned him a fat contract extension in the offseason.
Just as I mentioned when analyzing the wide receivers, the Bears are a run-first team, and the addition of D.J. Moore probably means less targets for everyone else. Simply put, it’s hard to put up great numbers with limited chances. Kmet is an excellent blocker and he’ll help Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, and Roschon Johnson in the open field. He’ll help Justin Fields rush for another 1,000 yards, too.
Kmet led the team in targets (69), catches (50), receiving yards (544) and TD catches (7) despite being mostly absent from the stat sheet through Week 4. If Fields improves as a passer, Kmet could take another step forward this year.
.Predictions: 56 catches for 576 yards and four touchdowns.
— Clay Harbor (@clayharbs82) August 17, 2023
Tonyan is nearly elite at creating separation. He signed with Chicago on a one-year deal after putting up similar numbers to Kmet last year, minus the touchdowns. He had a career year in 2020, catching 52 of 59 targets with 11 touchdowns. He had knee surgery in ’21, and was ranked 29th of 32 qualifying tight ends by Pro Football Focus last year.
The Bears are expected to run a lot more two tight end sets this year, and that might give Tonyan the opportunity to put up a decent stat line. The coaching staff loves his playmaking ability and consistency. Tonyan has run approximately 20 routes per game with a 12% target share over the past three seasons.
Mike Clay of ESPN believes Tonyan won’t be a big factor in Chicago’s offense. Clay projects Tonyan to get 14 targets with 12 catches for less than 100 yards and one score. The 6-foot-5 Tonyan should eclipse those numbers, even with a run-first offense and several other formidable pass catching options. I’ll be a little more generous, but not by much.
Predictions: 29 receptions for 315 yards and one score.
Could Marcedes Lewis have sold this play any better?
— Eli Berkovits (@BookOfEli_NFL) December 6, 2022
The Bears signed Lewis to be a punishing force in the run game, but the 17-year vet can catch a pass, too. That said, and pass-catching statistics he earns will be gravy. The 39-year-old tallied 66 yards and two touchdowns on six reception in 17 games last season with the Packers.
Lewis is here to block and help spring Chicago’s runners. It would be devastating if Kmet and Tonyan were injured and Lewis was forced to be a primary tight end. The Bears would probably prefer to let Chase Claypool or Equanimeous St. Brown move to tight end in that unlikely scenario.
Predictions: Five catches for 53 yards.