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Pre-draft picture: Packers' investment in young pass-catchers paying off

Immediate contributions from rookie class helped offset injuries

WR Jayden Reed, WR Dontayvion Wicks, TE Luke Musgrave
WR Jayden Reed, WR Dontayvion Wicks, TE Luke Musgrave

"Pre-draft picture" is a position-by-position look at the Packers' roster heading into the 2024 NFL Draft. The series continues with the receivers and tight ends.

GREEN BAY – The Packers took a risk when they went historically young at both receiver and tight end last year, but commitment to the future of their skill positions paid off in unprecedented fashion.

On the heels of a 2022 draft that landed Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, Green Bay used four of its first seven picks last spring on receivers Jayden Reed (second round, 50th overall) and Dontayvion Wicks (fifth, No. 159) and tight ends Luke Musgrave (second, No. 42) and Tucker Kraft (third, No. 78).

The results were nearly overwhelming.

Reed broke the franchise's single-season record with 64 catches. Musgrave and Kraft partnered with college free agent Ben Sims to become the first trio of Packers tight ends to catch touchdowns in the same rookie season. Wicks was Green Bay's third-leading receiver and led the team with 18 "explosive" catches of at least 16 yards.

The four combined for 168 receptions, 2,081 yards and 15 touchdowns, setting the table for a potentially big season for an offense that returns almost everyone at wideout and tight end in 2024.

With 793 receiving yards, Reed became just the sixth rookie in team history to lead Green Bay in the category since 1932. He also was the first rookie in NFL history to finish with 60-plus catches, 750-plus receiving yards, eight-plus receiving TDs, 100-plus rushing yards and at least two rushing TDs.

Wicks wasn't far off his 2023 draft classmate's pace, tallying 39 receptions and 581 receiving yards. His ability to gain separation contributed to 29 of Wicks' catches going for first down while his 46.2% explosive-catch percentage ranked fourth in the NFL among players with two-plus catches a game.

It complemented the contributions of Watson and Doubs, who have been offensive catalysts. Over the past two seasons, the two have combined for 220 receptions for 2,132 yards. Watson's 12 receiving TDs and Doubs' 11 rank first and second among the 2022 draft class.

Tasked with leading a young room, the 24-year-old Doubs played in all 17 regular-season games and bettered his stats across the board: 59 catches for 674 yards and eight TDs, which tied Reed for the team lead.

Doubs' steadiness and the rookies' unexpected production made up for the loss of Watson, who missed eight games due to a persistent hamstring injury. When healthy, Watson was once again a difference-maker. Averaging a team-high 15.1 yards per catch, the 6-foot-4 wideout appeared to be hitting his stride when he again tweaked his hamstring against Kansas City in early December.

The Packers sent Watson to UW-Madison after the season to have further tests done, aiming to mitigate the soft-tissue issues that have hampered him since being drafted in the second round in 2022. At last month's NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando, Head Coach Matt LaFleur sounded hopeful the team had found some answers.

Optimism around the receiving corps extends past just the Packers' draft picks. Malik Heath was one of three undrafted rookies to make the opening 53-man roster, catching 15 passes for 125 yards and a TD.

When Watson went down after the Chiefs game, practice-squad call-up Bo Melton sprouted into a big playmaker during the final six weeks of the season. The former Seattle seventh-round pick caught 18 passes for 244 yards and two TDs to not only earn a spot on the active roster but also propel the Packers into the playoffs.

Also returning for Green Bay are former seventh-round picks Grant DuBose and Samori Toure, who finished the year on injured reserve with a knee injury.

As young as the Packers were at receiver, they were even more inexperienced at tight end last season. With Green Bay doubling down on the position during the first three rounds of the draft for the first time in team history, Musgrave and Kraft proved to be sound investments for the offense.

The 6-foot-6, 253-pound Musgrave came one catch shy of breaking Bubba Franks' rookie tight end record for single-season receptions but finished in a tie with 34 after missing six games with a lacerated spleen.

Kraft stepped up in Musgrave's absence, catching 28 passes for 344 yards (12.3 yards per catch) with two TDs in the final eight games of the regular season. The complementary skill sets of Musgrave and Kraft gave an added dimension to LaFleur's scheme, which enjoys utilizing multiple tight ends.

The Packers are expecting fifth-year veteran Tyler Davis back after the 6-foot-4, 252-pound tight end tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the team's preseason opener in Cincinnati last August. A stalwart on special teams, Davis has eight receptions for 61 yards in 31 games for Green Bay.

To replace Davis, the Packers claimed Sims off waivers from Minnesota and the undrafted rookie wound up playing in all 19 games (including playoffs) as an in-line blocking tight end.

The H-back role is vacant after former third-round pick Josiah Deguara signed with Jacksonville, but first-year fullback Henry Pearson is a possible candidate to fill that spot after being twice elevated from the practice squad last season.

The Packers also retain Joel Wilson from the practice squad after the former Central Michigan tight end inked a future's contract after the season.

Pre-Draft Roster Series:

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