When Jimmy Graham was emerging as an NFL star, one of his biggest fans proudly wore the tight end's No. 80 New Orleans Saints jersey.
Nearly a decade later, Bears rookie Cole Kmet is developing a bond with the perennial Pro Bowler he admired as teammates who play the same position.
"I've known who [Graham] was since I was 12," Kmet said. "I got his jersey when he was on the Saints. I was telling him that the other day; we were laughing about it.
"To see him now and for him to be teaching me some things is pretty cool for me. As a fan of football, as a player of the game, it's been pretty special for me to be able to learn from a guy like that."
Determined to upgrade their tight end position during the offseason, the Bears signed Graham to a two-year contract in free agency and spent their top pick in the draft on Kmet at No. 43 in the second round.
Last year as a junior at Notre Dame, Kmet caught 53 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns. Since joining the Bears, the 21-year-old has made a very positive first impression on coaches and teammates, including Graham.
"His football intelligence and his ability to soak in these plays and understand his assignments and to understand football and defenses is extremely impressive for a young kid," Graham said. "That's been the most impressive thing that I can say I notice with him.
"Also, he's every bit of 260 [pounds]. He reminds me of a young me. He's got big legs, and the amount of potential that the kid has and the amount of talent that he has is truly unbelievable."
Being compared to Graham is high praise—even more so when it comes from the veteran tight end himself. Graham has appeared in 153 NFL games with 111 starts over 10 seasons with the Saints (2010-14), Seahawks (2015-17) and Packers (2018-19), catching 649 passes for 7,883 yards and 74 touchdowns.
Since he entered the league in 2010, Graham's games played and receiving yards are the most among NFL tight ends, while his receptions and touchdown catches both rank second. The 6-7, 265-pounder is fourth in NFL history among tight ends in TD catches and is third in touchdown receptions among all players since he entered the league.
No one is more familiar with Graham's accomplishments than Kmet, who is thrilled that the player he admired as a kid is quickly becoming his mentor.
"He's been a great influence for me since I've gotten here, just really helping out, showing me how to be professional," Kmet said. "You're going from college where things are kind of regimented in terms of going to class and stuff and being where you gotta be on time and doing what you have to do.
"Jimmy's just been great in terms of showing me just all the extra things that you have to do in order to be a great professional. He's just been really helpful throughout this whole process."