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Packers see bright future ahead for rookie tight ends

Size and speed separate Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft

Tight Ends Tucker Kraft and Luke Musgrave
Tight Ends Tucker Kraft and Luke Musgrave

GREEN BAY – You could have almost set the routes to music, as Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft broke, curled and caught passes in stereo during the Packers' rookie minicamp last weekend.

It was a routes-on-air period with neither defenders nor pads, but the duo's size, speed and explosiveness were on full display from the moment Green Bay's two newest tight ends walked on the Don Hutson Center turf.

Both around 6-foot-5 and a shade under 255 pounds, Musgrave and Kraft helped compose one of the strongest tight end classes in NFL history, with the position producing an unprecedented nine picks over the first two days of the draft.

With the Packers in need of reinforcements at tight end, General Manager Brian Gutekunst jumped right into the fray. Green Bay took Musgrave in the second round (No. 42) and Kraft in the third (78), marking the first time in team history the Packers selected two tight ends inside the first three rounds of the NFL Draft.

Although the two-day minicamp offered a microscopic sample size of the rookie's long-term potential, Musgrave and Kraft passed the eye test for Head Coach Matt LaFleur and his coaching staff.

"Certainly, they both look the part," LaFleur said. "They've got a lot to learn, but I think both guys are eager. That's part of the reason why we picked 'em so high. They checked all those boxes in terms of just the intangibles you look for from that position."

The 2023 season marks a new beginning for a Green Bay offense that ran a majority of its tight end sets through veterans Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan the past three seasons.

With Tonyan now in Chicago and Lewis still unsigned, however, the Packers' most experienced tight end at the moment is former third-round pick Josiah Deguara, who has played 656 offensive snaps in 35 NFL games over three seasons. The only other tight end with NFL experience is Tyler Davis, who has eight career catches for 61 yards.

Opting to sit out free agency, the Packers turned to an historically deep draft class to deepen their tight end options, beginning with Musgrave. The 6-foot-6, 253-pound Oregon State product got off to a feverish start to his junior year, catching 11 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown in two games before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn medial collateral ligament.

Musgrave was cleared in time for the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran a 4.61-seocnd time in 40 and recorded the fastest 10-yard split (1.54 seconds) among all tight ends.

"That's a good strength of mine," said Musgrave of his speed. "But I'm going to learn to be an all-around tight end and every-down tight end."

After drafting Michigan State receiver Jayden Reed later in the second round, the Packers reverted back to tight end in the third when Gutekunst summoned South Dakota State's Kraft. An all-around force for the Jackrabbits, Kraft caught 92 passes for 1,111 yards and nine touchdowns during his final two seasons.

The 6-foot-5, 254-pound tight end overcame leg injuries this past year to help catapult South Dakota State to its first Division I FCS national title following a 45-21 win over North Dakota State. Fittingly, Kraft spent the NFL Draft surrounded by 300 family and friends in a crop-airport hangar his family owns in Timber Lake, S.D., a rural area with a population of approximately 500.

"I was playing for a university that took so many chances on me," Kraft said. "Even the Packers, I'm going to give them everything that I have because they went out and drafted me. When people give me a chance and they trust me … then I'm going to give that back to them."

Musgrave and Kraft became acquainted with each other even before they arrived in Green Bay. In addition to time spent together at the NFL Scouting Combine, the two rookies had their top-30 visit with the Cincinnati Bengals at the same time.

Now, it's likely the two will share the field in Green Bay, especially given LaFleur's penchant for "12" personnel packages that incorporate two tight ends.

"I think we're going to be really good friends," said Musgrave of Kraft. "You want to have a good room; you don't want just one good tight end. Guys can push each other, and having a good tight end room makes you as an individual player better."

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