Editor's note: This column was originally published in January and is being republished after the Bears selected Lake Barrington's Cole Kmet with the 43rd overall pick in the NFL Draft on Friday night.
I love the NFL Draft, I suppose in part because I’ve been covering it as long as anyone else working in media today and actually played my own little role in turning it into the multi-media industry that it has become.
It was actually my dad who published the first-ever national rankings and scouting reports on top college prospects available to the public in Pro Football Weekly in 1968.
By the time I took over PFW when Dad passed away in March of 1979, we had been expanding our coverage in our weekly publications, and that year I hired the legendary Joel Buchsbaum and we published our first PFW Scouts Notebook.
That was six months before ESPN first hit the airwaves, a year before the four letter network brought the Draft to television and several years before Mel Kiper came on the scene.
I mention it now only because of a fun little story that’s been rattling around in my head the past few days as I’ve begun to dig into this year’s draft.
Back in the early ‘90s, well after PFW had been firmly established as the country’s foremost experts on the draft and Buchsbaum had become a cult hero, I was then well into a long run as the color commentator on the Chicago Bears Radio Network.
In the spring of 1993, I got a call from a young Bears backup defensive linemen who had been picked up the season prior – after he was drafted in the fourth round out of Purdue by Buffalo, cut and then spent time with the Packers and Browns before landing with his hometown Bears.
He told me he suspected his young career could be coming to an end and that he was interested in the business and scouting side of the game, and wondered if we could sit down and talk and I could offer whatever advice I might have based on my background as to how he might pursue those goals.
I said sure, offered to buy him lunch and he asked if I minded if he brought a friend he’d played with at Purdue who was also interested in the business. I said of course.
We talked at lunch, I shared my experiences and offered whatever help I could give the guys and any contacts I might have, and we moved on.
The young Bear lineman’s name was Frank Kmet, and his instincts had been good, as the Bears did release him coming out of training camp at the end of that summer.
I can’t say for certain but my memory is that Frank ended up going into a family business. I know he moved on from the NFL.
Ironically, though, his buddy was Ryan Grigson – who went on to coach, scout for the Rams and Eagles and was eventually named the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.
He hired Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as his first head coach that year, drafted Andrew Luck with the first overall pick, and the following season he was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year in 2013.
His relationship eventually soured with Pagano, Jimmy Irsay fired Grigson after the 2016 season and he currently works for the Seattle Seahawks.
Ryan’s success was all his, it had nothing to do with me and that isn’t the reason I’m telling you this story, but Frank is.
While Kmet didn’t end up pursuing a career in the NFL, he did settle in the Chicago area, started a family and one of his sons, Cole, is a young man you’re going to be hearing a lot about over the next few months.
You see, of all the Bears' needs in the upcoming draft, none is greater than tight end, and Cole Kmet is a 6-5, 250-pound tight end who is leaving Notre Dame a year early after a 43-515-6 receiving season that elevated him to one of the top prospects at the position in this draft.
The incoming crop of TE prospects does not make for a banner year when compared to recent seasons that have seen multiple tight ends selected in the first round.
While Kmet, Brycen Hopkins (Purdue), Jacob Breeland (Oregon), Hunter Bryant (Washington) and Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt), to name a few of the more interesting are all likely Day 2 prospects and have a chance to be excellent NFL players, there is no T.J. Hockenson or O.J. Howard in this year’s class.
Depending on who you talk to, Kmet is somewhere between the top and third or fourth prospect in the group.
That’s not a bad thing when you consider Rob Gronkowski (2nd), Zach Ertz (2nd), Travis Kelce (3rd) and George Kittle (5th) were all Day 2 or later picks.
What is more intriguing: Based on where the Bears sit in this draft, there’s a very good chance all of the top tight ends could still be available at 43 or even 50, and clearly most of them will be there if that’s where the Bears choose to look.
Kmet is valued by a number of scouts as much for his athleticism as his size and strength. He was also a star baseball player at St. Viator in Arlington Heights.
If that rings a bell it could be because that’s where another Bear you may have heard of, Walter Payton’s son Jarrett, was an All-State soccer player and standout running back about the time the younger Kmet was born.
We’ve got a combine, pro days and private workouts to come over the next couple months before we find out just how valued Kmet and his fellow tight end prospects will be draft weekend.
Right now I’m just enjoying the walk down memory lane and thinking about Frank, because it looks like pro football is going to be the family business after all and I can’t imagine how pleased and excited the whole family must be.
I’m sure it will be that much sweeter if the new tight end in Chicago is a second generation Bear.
The only issue for Bears fans is that the Seahawks need TE help, too, and I’m pretty sure that old family friend Grigson also has his eyes on Cole.