Next to quarterback and running back, tight end has been a very important position through the history of the Chicago Bears. Former Bears head coach Mike Ditka, arguably the best coach in franchise history, first made his mark as a Hall of Fame tight end and is considered to be one of the best to ever play the position.
More recently, there was a drop in production from tight ends during the latter part of the 2010s but the position accounted for 85 receptions and 10 touchdowns last season. Heading into 2021, the team is looking for even more out of this group. Here is what the TE depth chart looks like as the Bears open training camp.
As one of the latest in a recent line of Notre Dame tight ends to reach the NFL, Kmet was the first tight end selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. Kmet didn't post huge numbers as a rookie (28 rec., 243 yds., 2 TDs) but he showed improvement as the season progressed and also was dependable as a blocker. His role is expected to increase substantially this season as head coach Matt Nagy will look for ways to utilize Kmet's skill set in a variety of situations.
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Graham was somewhat a surprising signing in free agency last March after two mediocre seasons in Green Bay. Although he was coming off of back-to-back Pro Bowl campaigns with the Seahawks before joining the Packers, it was clear Graham wasn't the player he was when he started his career in New Orleans (2010-14). He didn't make the Pro Bowl last season, but Graham did put together a nice debut with the Bears, leading the team in touchdown catches (eight) and finishing fourth in both receptions (50) and yards (456). Graham will likely see his role diminish this season with Kmet expected to take another step forward, but the 11-year veteran should continue to be an asset in the red zone.
This Princeton alum is continuing his transition from collegiate wide receiver to NFL tight end. To his credit, he's been able to navigate the learning curve for the most part. He started his rookie year of 2019 on the practice squad but eventually suited up for six games in which he posted eight receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. He was on the practice squad last year but also should have been able to benefit from being in the same position group as Kmet and Graham. Look for Horsted to contend for the third spot on the tight end depth chart.
James is the newest member of the tight end group, as he signed a one-year deal prior to the start of training camp. James was a fifth-round draft pick in 2015 by Pittsburgh after playing at Penn State and spent four seasons with the Steelers. He signed with Detroit as a free agent prior to the 2019 season but saw his production drop dramatically. For his career, James has posted 150 receptions for 1,460 yards and 11 touchdowns in 88 games (54 starts). Besides experience, James also brings size (6-7, 261) and is considered to be a reliable blocker.
In two seasons with the Bears (30 games, eight starts), Holtz has caught a total of seven passes for 91yards. But the reason he has a strong chance of making the team is because Holtz has proven himself in other ways. He's valuable as a blocker (sometimes lines up at fullback), he contributes on special teams, and is used as a decoy in multiple tight end sets.
The undrafted rookie free agent out of Stanford will have a lot to prove during the month of August. During his four years in a Cardinal uniform, Harrington played in just 15 games. In those games he managed 17 catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns. The production may not have been there, but perhaps the Bears see something that the rest of us don't. He played in a pro-style offense at Stanford which will ease the learning curve, but he'll need to stand out above the others in this crowded position if he wants to stick around come September.