In the NFL, having a strong tight end could completely change the complexity of an offense.
For their respective teams, all three serve as both safety blankets and play-makers for their quarterbacks.
Having speedy wide receivers is one thing, but pairing that speed with a reliable, big-bodied pass-catcher could turn a passing offense into one of the best in the league.
As the 2021 NFL season draws closer, these three tight ends have a chance to truly break out.
If so, they would become valuable commodities that would overall help shape how their team moves the football.
3. Cole Kmet
The Chicago Bears drafted Cole Kmet in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft with the No. 43 overall pick.
As a rookie, Kmet appeared in all 16 games, started nine and caught 28 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
Jimmy Graham, who actually led the Bears with eight touchdown catches last season, remains on the roster.
But it appears Chicago is determined to make Kmet more of a focal point in their offense.
He was named the starter in the team’s first depth chart.
Furthermore, he has been making plays all offseason with both Andy Dalton and Justin Fields.
— Erik Lambert (@ErikLambert1) August 12, 2021
Kmet was the first tight end drafted in 2020.
He looks to have surpassed Jimmy Graham as the Bears’ go-to target at the position.
If Chicago commits to him, he was the requisite speed/size that could make him a formidable force in the offense.
It’s important to note that Bears head coach Matt Nagy coached Kelce when he was in Kansas City.
That’s not to say Kmet is the next Kelce necessarily.
But the Bears wouldn’t have used such a high draft pick on him if they didn’t think he could fit that role.
2. Irv Smith Jr.
Irv Smith Jr. is entering his third season in the NFL after being drafted No. 50 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Through his first two years, Smith has appeared in 29 out of a possible 32 games and has caught 66 passes for 676 yards and six touchdowns.
But in those first two seasons, Smith was blocked by Kyle Rudolph.
Now, Rudolph is gone after signing a deal with the New York Giants.
It appears as if Smith is next in line to be the Minnesota Vikings’ starting tight end.
Earlier in the offseason, Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said that Smith will have more opportunities in the passing game.
The Vikings as a whole had the 14th-ranked passing offense last season, throwing for 4,009 yards.
Smith is a much more versatile and overall more talented tight end than Rudolph.
He showed he can shine as a pass-catcher last season, grabbing five touchdowns and averaging 12.2 yards per reception.
1. Dan Arnold
Dan Arnold might not have the name recognition as the first two tight ends on this list, but he has just as much opportunity and potential.
Arnold has been in the NFL since 2018 after signing with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent following the 2017 NFL Draft.
He has spent time with both the Saints and Arizona Cardinals, appearing in 31 total games.
In that time, Arnold has caught 51 passes for 715 yards and seven touchdowns.
He signed a two-year deal with the Carolina Panthers this offseason and is listed as a co-starter with Ian Thomas on the team’s unofficial depth chart.
Throughout training camp, Arnold has reportedly found a strong connection with starting quarterback Sam Darnold.
The Sam Darnold to Dan Arnold connection has been strong in training camp. Arnold just caught a TD pass from the QB.
— Alaina Getzenberg (@agetzenberg) August 5, 2021
Before training camp, Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer talked up how big of a piece Arnold could be this season.
“Dan Arnold had a great (offseason),” general manager Scott Fitterer told reporters before training camp started. “He showed a lot of ability to get down the field and catch the ball. It looks like he’ll be a threat in the passing game.”
Arnold is still just 26 years old and worked with Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady when he was an offensive assistant with the Saints in 2017-2018.
He isn’t the flashiest name and hasn’t had the flashiest of careers.
But for a Panthers team looking for a solid starting tight end since the departure of Greg Olsen, Arnold could be their guy.NEXT: Mitchell Trubisky Returns To Chicago In Week 2 Of Preseason