Throughout the summer we will be running a 12-part series grading each Bears position group on a standard A-F scale, including pluses and minuses based on a bell curve comparing all 32 NFL teams.
In 2019, the Bears’ six tight ends combined for 46 catches for 416 yard and two touchdowns. None had more than Trey Burton’s 14 catches or J.P. Holtz’s 91 yards, 30 of which came on one catch.
Last season, Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet alone combined for 78 catches for 699 yards and 10 TDs, delivering a huge improvement. Although the 8.9-yards-per-catch average is concerning and disappointing, some of that is on the quarterbacks. Graham alone surpassed the numbers of the six 2019 tight ends combined with 50 receptions for 456 yards and eight scores.
How much better can this year’s group be?
Kmet was a high-ceiling developmental prospect last season. Considering tight end historically is one of the most difficult positions for rookies to excel at, his 28 catches, 243 yards and two TDs, while certainly not eye-popping, shouldn’t be disappointing, either, as he improved almost every week. Kmet already is an above-average blocker and should continue to improve, has nice athleticism for a man his size and is a rugged run-after-the-catch guy with good hands. He still is nowhere near his ceiling and could become a star. Grade: B
Graham will turn 35 at the end of November. He no longer is the Pro Bowl tight end he was in New Orleans, but 32 of his 50 catches were for first downs. His eight touchdowns prove he still is an extremely valuable red-zone threat. He also provides a big bonus with his veteran leadership skills and mentoring of Kmet. Surprisingly, his blocking skills, that honestly had been a bit of a joke in his heyday, improved significantly last year. He hasn’t missed a game in five seasons and seven of his past eight, so there is no reason to believe he can’t match last year’s contributions or possibly surpass them with improvement from Kmet. Grade: B
Holtz is fine as a third or fourth tight end and solid special teams contributor. He is a strong blocker and an asset in two tight-end run situations but pretty much a nonfactor in the passing game. You don’t want him starting if Kmet or Graham gets hurt, but the Bears know what they have in him, so his sticking this year mostly will be about what the guys behind him show. Grade: C
This 6-foot-6, 250-pounder celebrated his 26th birthday this week, and he is the wild card of the group. After staying at Michigan for his senior year in spite of being projected as a second-round pick as a junior, he tore his left ACL for the second time playing in the Orange Bowl. A number of seniors declined to play in bowl games. The Broncos took him in the fifth round anyway, and after spending his rookie year on injured reserve, he tore the ACL a third time, limiting him to eight games in his four years in Denver. At Michigan, he caught 138 passes for 1,646 yards and 11 TDs. He’s an awfully hard kid not to root for, but what’s left of that knee? Grade: Incomplete/Injury
Horsted is an excellent receiver, but he is a wide receiver out of Princeton trying to make the transition to tight end. After a tantalizing rookie season in which he made a couple of special plays, he was unable to get off the practice squad last year. Grade: C
An undrafted rookie free agent, Harrington is 6-5, 260 pounds and out of the NFL’s most recent tight end U., Stanford. But in four seasons, he played in only 15 games and caught 17 passes for 103 yards and two TDs. Grade: D
If Kmet takes the expected next steps and Graham can just stay even with the board, this group could play a big role in a much-improved Bears offense. Anything they get from Butt would be a bonus, but if he can play on that knee like he did in college, then they get really interesting. Overall grade: B