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2020 NFL draft scouting report: Patriots could turn to Cole Kmet to upgrade their tight end position

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Bowling Green at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from pro football last March, the New England Patriots lost their most talented offensive skill position player and it hurt the team throughout the 2019 season: the Patriots failed to find an adequate replacement, with neither Matt LaCosse nor Benjamin Watson and Ryan Izzo proving to be able to fill the enormous void. Based on last year, the team will therefore need a do-over at the position.

Enter Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet. Ranked as one of the top tight end prospects to enter this year’s draft, he is expected to hear his name called early on day two after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s advisory board for juniors. While New England does currently not own a pick in that area as a result of the Mohamed Sanu trade, Kmet might still be on the organization’s radar if available.

Let’s take a closer look at him.

Name: Cole Kmet

Position: Tight end

School: Notre Dame

2019 stats: 11 games, 43 catches, 515 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns

Size: 6-5 4/8, 250 lbs

Expected Round: 2nd

Strengths: Listed at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Kmet brings good size in combination with solid functional strength to the table and sure knows how to use the two in the open field: he is tough to bring down after the catch, and also is an able downfield blocker against smaller defensive backs. Kmet furthermore knows how to take a hit — especially when running up the seam from a slot alignment — and to use his body in order to out-muscle defenders at the top of his routes and when in contested situations. He also has good hands and made some strong catches.

The Illinois native also has experience lining up in numerous spots: the Fighting Irish used him not just as a receiver in the slot but also as an in-line blocker and lead-blocker from the backfield. His blocking is competitive, but he is better in downfield situations than he is as a true one-on-one blocker against bigger front seven defenders. That being said, he offers a solid foundation to build upon and tries to play with leverage and active hands when engaging defenders.

Weaknesses: As noted above, Kmet is not the most polished blocker and a work in progress when asked to pass-protect or run-block one-on-one against defensive linemen or linebackers. At times, he is a bit too hesitant at engaging his assignments and also tends to open up every now and then which allows defenders to take advantage of his imbalance. Kmet’s technique also is a bit inconsistent as his footwork and upper-body push get sloppy when challenged by raw strength at the point of attack.

Furthermore, he lacks an outstanding athletic skillset. While his size and physical approach make him an interesting prospect, he looks slow-footed from time to time and makes most of his yards after the catch by powering through defenders rather than running away from them. His up-and-down playing speed might make it difficult to go against today’s athletically superior linebackers at the next level or challenge cornerbacks and safeties in press-man coverage. He also needs to get more precise as a route-runner.

What would be his role? Given that he is a better receiver than blocker right now, Kmet would likely see most of his snaps as a receiving tight end early on in his pro career. That being said, the Patriots like to use their players at the position in run-blocking and pass-protection so he would still get his fair share of action there as well. Realistically, however, New England would use him as a replacement for Benjamin Watson: a passing game-first tight end used in specific situations (no-huddle/two-minute and third down).

How many downs can he play? Theoretically four, but as noted above his raw blocking makes him more of a two-down and situational option. On a regular basis, Kmet would come onto the field on third downs and in the kicking game.

What is his special teams value? Kmet would be able to serve as a protector on punt and field goal units right away. The Patriots used Rob Gronkowski that way early on in his career, and could try to do the same with him 10 years later.

Does he have positional versatility? As pointed out above, Notre Dame employed Kmet as an in-line blocker, in the backfield and from the slot quite a bit and this usage seems to be realistic at the next level as well. While he did not see regular action split out wide in college, his size makes him an intriguing option as an X-receiver as well.

Will his role change from year 1 to year 2? Kmet would likely already see regular playing time early on in his career. He should still take a step towards becoming the Patriots’ undisputed number one option at the tight end spot between years one and two, though, as he gets more comfortable in New England’s offensive system and improves his blocking technique.

Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? Entering the 2020 offseason, the Patriots have only two tight ends under contract with neither Matt LaCosse nor Ryan Izzo locks to make the team. Kmet, on the other hand, would be a safe bet to be on the 53-man squad if drafted by New England. He would therefore have to beat out the two — or any additional offseason additions — for the role of number one tight end, something he should be capable of doing.

Why the Patriots? There is no way around it: New England needs to upgrade its tight end position. And with Benjamin Watson a free agent that is potentially headed into retirement, and Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo not showing much upside in 2019, Kmet would be a viable option if the Patriots opt to invest through the draft. While he is a work in progress, there is an argument that he is the best option the Patriots could pick from the college prospects.

Why not the Patriots? Kmet is currently projected to come off the board early on day two, and the Patriots do not have a pick in this area at the moment. Unless they move back in the first round — which is always a possibility given New England’s willingness to swing trades — to get more picks in the 30-50 range, the team simply might not have the capital to bring him on board. On top of this, there is also a chance the Patriots prefer to target a more polished option in free agency instead of investing a high draft pick in a developmental tight end.

Verdict: Kmet is an intriguing player that is a bit rough around the edges but would certainly be a good addition to the Patriots’ current tight end depth chart. While he needs some work on his blocking technique and get a bit more polished as a route-runner to make up for his comparatively average athleticism, his combination of size and strength plus his smooth hands, experience when it comes to lining up in different spots and physical edge make him a potential target for New England.