There is an extremely popular narrative around the Bears that general manager Ryan Poles has done far too little to surround Justin Fields with the weapons he needs to progress and become the franchise quarterback many believe he can be.
That sentiment is understandable given this offseason, but it is actually fairly easy to present another scenario in which if Fields is the player we think he is, he may be only one target away from taking a major step forward.
That target is tight end Cole Kmet, but let’s set the table before we sit down to eat.
In each of their eight combined MVP seasons, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes targeted their passing games around just two receivers and their running backs 63.1% of the time.
In 2007, Brady attempted 586 passes and targeted 66.4% of them at Randy Moss (160), Wes Welker (145) and his RBs (84). In 2010, Brady attempted 507 passes, targeting Rob Gronkowski (123), Welker (122) and his RBs (86) 66.3%. In 2017, it was 587 attempts targeted at Brandin Cooks (114), Gronk (106) and the RBs (159) at a 64.6% clip.
In 2011, Rodgers threw 552 times, targeting Greg Jennings (101), Jordy Nelson (96) and his RBs (92) 289 times, just 52.4%. But, in 2014, he threw 536 passes, targeting Nelson (151), Randall Cobb (126) and his RBs (90) 367 times, 68.5%. In 2020, it was 526 attempts to Davante Adams (149), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (63) and the RBs (115) 327 times for 62.2%. Just last season he threw 570 times, looking for Adams (169), Allen Lazard (60) and his RBs (106) 335 times, or 58.8%.
In 2018, Mahomes threw 583 times, targeting Travis Kelce (150), Tyreek Hill (137) and his RBs (94) 381 times, a 65.4% rate.
Now, there is a serious debate as to whether Darnell Mooney is a true No. 1 or high-end No. 2 receiver, but he is every bit the receiver Welker, Cooks and Jennings were/are, and the offense Fields will run this year will most resemble the one in which Rodgers earned his last two MVPs, when his second targets of choice were Lazard and Valdez-Scantling – not a high bar to clear.
Bears running backs David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert and rookie Trestan Ebner are all almost as highly regarded for their receiving skills as running, so that piece of the puzzle is clearly there.
Which now brings us back to Kmet, the only other player on the Bears roster likely to be part of a dynamic duo for Fields.
Can he emerge this year as a high-end tight end in the molds of Gronk, Kelce and other recent Pro Bowlers like George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller and T.J. Hockenson?
The early returns actually suggest he can when you realize tight end is one of the hardest positions to develop.
None of that group of studs had significantly better rookie years than Kmet, and only Gronk and Kittle took off in year two.
Kelce, Andrews and Waller didn’t break out until their fourth seasons. Hockenson isn’t any further along than Kmet three seasons in, other than in touchdowns. And Kmet’s 60 receptions for 612 yards in his second season is comparable to – or better than – all four of them.
Kmet has a reasonable view of what at least some of his issues have been, pointing to the team’s frequent changes at the quarterback position.
“I mean it’s tough on a player trying to get a feel for guys and different kinds of scheme changes depending on who the quarterback is,” Kmet said during OTAs last month at Halas Hall.
He won’t put any number on what a successful third season would look like, but he’s clear about what he’ll strive for.
“I don’t like to put numbers on things because there’s only so much you can control,” Kmet said. “But, for me, coaches set a standard, meet the standard, and I think things will take care of [themselves].”
If Kmet breaks out the Bears still aren’t likely to be a winning team, but Fields just may be in better shape to arrive than we realize.