Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet changes plan, declares for NFL Draft

Tyler James I South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

Cole Kmet left himself an out in November.

When asked about the 2020 season, the junior tight end said he planned to return to Notre Dame for one more year. When asked follow-up questions in the week leading into Notre Dame’s game against Navy (Nov. 16), Kmet included the words “right now” in his answers.

On Thursday, Kmet’s previous plans officially turned past tense when Kmet shared his new plan to enter the 2020 NFL Draft pool and forgo his final year of eligibility.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision because while I am ready for the NFL, I was not sure I was ready to say goodbye to Notre Dame,” Kmet wrote in part of his statement posted on Twitter and Instagram.

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Kmet, who also pitched for the Irish baseball team, saw his draft stock skyrocket through his junior season. Kmet confirmed with the Tribune that he received a second-round grade from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee.

Some draft analysts believe Kmet could be the first tight end selected in April’s draft.

“He has a chance to go in the late-first round,” said Scott Wright of “Worst case, he’ll go early-to-mid round two. At this point, I’ll be surprised if he’s not the first tight end off the board.”

Wright described the 2020 crop of tight ends as lackluster. That could inflate Kmet’s draft stock even more if NFL teams believe there’s a clear gap between him and the other tight ends available.

Kmet caught 60 passes for 691 yards and six touchdowns in his three seasons with the Irish. He capped his career with 43 receptions for 515 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games this past season.

Kmet fought through injuries on both the football field and baseball diamond.

In his sophomore football season, Kmet missed two games with a high ankle sprain. His sophomore baseball season, in which he pitched 18 2/3 innings with a 2.89 ERA and 27 strikeouts, was cut short with soreness in his throwing elbow. A broken collarbone in August forced Kmet to miss the first two games of the 2019 season.

“The durability, that’s going to be the No. 1 question mark that everybody has with him,” Wright said. “When he’s healthy, he’s a terrific, all-around tight end. Not only as a pass catcher and a red-zone threat, but as a blocker, he gets the job done there.

“In this tight end class, he seized the opportunity. He made a good decision to come out because he’s going to be the first guy off the board.”

Wright suggested the Jacksonville Jaguars, which own pick No. 20 from a trade with the Los Angeles Rams, and the New England Patriots, who will have their pick determined by their finish in the playoffs, as teams that could be interested in selecting Kmet in the first round.

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler also projects Kmet as the top tight end in the 2020 NFL Draft class.

The loss of Kmet leaves Notre Dame without its top three pass catchers from the 2019 season. Wide receivers Chase Claypool (66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns) and Chris Finke (41 catches for 456 yards and 4 TDs) both exhausted their eligibility in 2019.

The tight end position should be left in capable hands with sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble returning with more receptions (16) last season than anyone not named Claypool, Kmet and Finke. Junior tight end Brock Wright will return with 37 games of experience but little production as a receiver (four catches for 57 yards and one TD). Sophomore George Takacs saw action in six games in 2019 and had two catches for 12 yards, including a two-yard touchdown.

The Irish will also welcome two freshmen to the 2020 roster: Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman. Mayer entered the week at the All-American Bowl in San Antonio ranked as the No. 3 tight end and among the top 70 players overall in the 2020 class by both Rivals and 247Sports.

Opinions vary more widely on Bauman, whom Rivals rates as a four-star recruit and the No. 5 tight end and 247Sports slates as a three-star recruit and the No. 21 tight end.

Both are set to join the Irish in June.

Mayer was prepared for the possibility of Kmet’s departure.

“The way I look at it, it’s a win-win situation,” Mayer said earlier this week of Kmet’s decision. “If he stays, I can learn a ton from him and play behind him. He can teach me everything pretty much. If he leaves, I’ve got Brock (Wright), Tommy Tremble and others to teach me the way.”

The coach tasked with teaching the tight ends in 2020 remains unknown following offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Chip Long’s exit in December. The Irish also have to replace defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, whose departure was announced Thursday by head coach Brian Kelly.

Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet (84) tries to break away from Iowa State’s Justin Bickham (7) in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28, 2019.