After two productive seasons in 2021-22, Bears tight end Cole Kmet is elevating his game to an even higher level in 2023.
The fourth-year pro from Notre Dame enters Week 11 averaging 4.6 receptions and 41.9 yards per game—both career highs—putting him on pace to finish the season with 78 catches and 712 yards.
A 2020 second-round draft pick, Kmet emerged as a key contributor in his second season, catching 60 passes for 612 yards. He followed by leading the Bears in all receiving categories last year with 50 catches, 544 yards and seven touchdowns.
This season, the Chicago area native has blossomed into one of the NFL's best tight ends, ranking fifth in the league and third in the NFC among players at his position with 46 catches.
"I just think it's naturally getting older, seeing more stuff, kind of growing into myself a little bit more," Kmet said. "I'm still a young player relative to the NFL. There are a lot of guys my age who are just rookies right now. There's that aspect of it."
At 24, Kmet is the same age as Bears rookies Terell Smith and Quindell Johnson and only one year older than rookie teammates Tyson Bagent, Zacch Pickens and Tyrique Stevenson.
While valuable, experience isn't the only factor in Kmet's ascent this season.
"Some of it is just opportunity frankly," he said. "They either target you or they don't. Sometimes that plays into it, and sometimes the defense gives you a look where you're getting the ball and sometimes it doesn't. That's just how it is. And the volume of our offense is a little bit different than last year. We're closer to being a little more balanced than we were."
Kmet has especially excelled in the Bears' last three games, turning 25 targets into 21 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores came Nov. 5 in a loss to the Saints in New Orleans on 18- and 9-yard passes from Bagent. First, Kmet snatched a 50/50 pass away from safety Tyrann Mathieu and later made a nifty over-the-shoulder grab, slipping into the flat after it appeared he was staying in to block.
In the process, Kmet became just the third NFL player with two TD receptions in two games this season, joining Eagles receiver A.J. Brown and Ravens tight end Mark Andrews.
Kmet has improved his catch percentage every year he's been in the league—from 63.6% in 2020 to 64.5% in 2021 to 72.5% in 2022 to 80.7% in 2023. Only two tight ends are catching a greater percentage of their targets this year: the Bills' Dalton Kincaid (88.2%) and the Jaguars' Evan Engram (80.9%).
"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."
The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall to continue their preparation for Sunday's divisional battle with the Lions in Detroit.
Since the start of last season, Kmet's 12 TD receptions are third among NFL tight ends behind the Chiefs' Travis Kelce (16) and the 49ers' George Kittle (15). In addition, Kmet's 10 red-zone TD catches during that span are tied for fourth among all NFL players and are third among tight ends behind Kelce (14) and Andrews (11).
"As tight ends, they say: 'Make your money in the red zone,'" Kmet said. "That's where you've got to be the most valuable threat in terms of big body catches. It's making plays when balls are thrown your way. Again, a lot of it is opportunity, getting those targets. But I feel like I've done a good job of hauling them in when the targets have been coming my way."
To Bears coach Matt Eberflus, Kmet's intangibles are just as impressive as his on-field production.
"Just a pro's pro," Eberflus said. "He's been leading our football team through this adversity we've been going through and he's been great. His attitude and the way he goes about his business in terms of his work and his enjoyment of the day-to-day operation is just contagious to everybody else. That's what he's really done for me mostly."
While Kmet is a skilled receiver, he's also an asset as a blocker. He helped the Bears lead the NFL in rushing last season and is even better in that aspect of the game this year.
"His blocking has been really good," Eberflus said. "That to me is the stuff you don't see. What you do see are all the athletic catches."
"He's a really balanced player," added offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "He's becoming a complete tight end. His run game is getting really good. His pass pro is getting better. And then the receiving part of it, his run after catch is improving. I think that's the coolest part of his game is he's becoming more complete each and every week."