Cole Kmet Emerging as Team Leader and One of NFL’s Best Tight Ends

Kmet is first in catch rate among tight ends with at least 60 receptions

Cole Kmet has elevated his game to a new level this season, and he’s become one of Chicago’s team leaders while doing so. The fourth-year tight end established a new season-high in receptions in Sunday’s 28-13 win over the Lions after grabbing five of six targets for 66 yards. His 82.4% catch rate is easily the best of his career.

Kmet has also become a team leader, whether he’s talking about the playoffs or pleading with the league to do a better job of protecting Justin Fields. Fields hasn’t drawn a single unnecessary roughness penalty all season.

“The hits at the end [of plays] aren’t great,” Kmet said about the punishment Fields is taking this year. “Look, we are trying [and] lobbying [on behalf of Fields]. Me, D.J. Moore, and Darnell Mooney – we are trying our best to lobby for a flag [when those kinds of hits happen]. We just want to see Justin protected in those situations. We never want to see our quarterback in harm’s way.

“When he is getting down and sliding, [we] want him protected in the head and neck area. You don’t want [to see] any cheap shots.”

The Notre Dame product has four games this season where he’s caught every pass thrown to him. He’s accounted for 24 catches for 188 yards and one touchdown in games against the Chiefs, Commanders, Chargers, and Vikings. He’s 10th in the league among all tight ends this season with 548 receiving yards. Kmet’s on a pace to catch 80 passes for 717 yards and 7 scores, which would establish or tie career highs. It’s no wonder the emerging star is talking about the playoffs, though he deservedly credits the defense for that notion.

“The defense has been outstanding. It’s like a top-five unit in the past month,” Kmet said. “I feel confident about the defense and where it’s at. I don’t think I’ve felt like that since my rookie year. You’re going, ‘All right, put up at least 20 and you feel good about where that’s at.’

“You’re starting to feel like [the playoffs are possible] with this defense, with how they’re generating pressure and what they’re doing on the back end. It’s been a lot of fun to see. There’s still a lot of stuff we can do better [offensively] in terms of capitalizing, but they’re doing a great job and they’ve been the key to this [resurgence] so far.”

Kmet is in his fourth season, but he’s as young as some of Chicago’s rookies and second-year players. He’s excelled in the Bears’ last three games, turning 25 targets into 21 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Kmet is fifth among tight ends in catches (61) but first in catch rate at the position among those with at least 60 receptions. Kmet and Moore have combined for 137 receptions for 1,619 yards and 12 scores. The tight end has also been the most reliable target in the league at his position.

“I think that just comes from a confidence aspect,” Kmet said. “When you’re out on the field not thinking and you’re just going out to play, you know where you’ve got to be, it becomes more natural, and you play a little bit more loose and a little bit more free.”

Those statistics have helped Fields become one of the NFL’s better quarterbacks. Fields takes his fair share of hits on social media, but the third-year quarterback has passed for 3,004 yards with 25 touchdowns and 11 INTs in his last 17 games. That’s good for a 92.3 passer rating. Fields has also rushed for 1,237 yards on 171 yards with eight scores in those tilts. He has visibly grown in his pocket presence. Further, Fields’ rushing ability now compliments his passing skills instead of dominating them.

And the Bears are in the playoff hunt, though they enter Sunday’s game as the 13th seed of 15 teams still in the playoff race. The Panthers are the only NFC team to be officially eliminated, and the Bears own their top draft pick next year. Things are looking up. Kmet knows the playoffs are a long shot, though hasn’t given up. The Bears need to run the table, but even that may not be enough. Chicago needs a lot of help, too, because they’ve lost so many tiebreakers.

“You go lay a dud this weekend and it’s back to chaos and all that stuff.” he said.” You win and it’s like, ‘Oh, my god — the Bears are back. Let’s throw a parade.’ You’ve just got to take it one week at a time. I think everyone here has done a really good job of just sticking to the process, sticking to the mindset and that can’t waver whether [we] win or lose. [We’ve] got to look at the mistakes for what they are in a win or loss. You look at the good and the bad, but just take this thing week to week.”

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