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Tucker Kraft walked his own path from small town to big time

Packers’ third-round pick will have company as rookie tight end

TE Tucker Kraft
TE Tucker Kraft

GREEN BAY – Tucker Kraft may come from a small town and small school, but he's had his eye on the bright lights of the NFL for a while now.

The native of Timber Lake, S.D., and product of reigning FCS champion South Dakota State said the NFL has been on his radar since he was 19. His confidence was such that he didn't feel the need to transfer to a Power 5 conference despite NIL offers that would've paid him six-figure sums.

It was admittedly tempting to finish his college career in a bigger, more lucrative locale after catching 65 passes for 773 yards and six touchdowns in 2021. But the 6-5, 254-pound tight end decided to stick to his roots, and it worked out just fine, beginning with a 2022 national championship and culminating in the Packers using their third-round draft pick, No. 78 overall, to select him Friday night.

"I came from a really small rural community," Kraft said of Timber Lake, population 513. "I came from adversity. My father passed away when I was 12, my mother being really sick with an auto-immune disease. I realized I was going to have to take my path on my own."

He won't be alone coming to Green Bay as a rookie tight end, though. Kraft was the second tight end the Packers drafted Friday after spending a second-round pick (No. 42 overall) on Oregon State's Luke Musgrave.

Kraft and Musgrave met during the pre-draft process, got along well, and even took a joint visit to the Cincinnati Bengals. Now they'll be together learning a Packers offense quarterbacked by Jordan Love as General Manager Brian Gutekunst initiated a potential overhaul of the tight end position in a span of a couple hours.

"They're both all-around tight ends that can kind of do everything," Gutekunst said. "They're not pigeonholed into only being able to be a receiving tight end or a blocking tight end. They can do it all. They both have very good size, very good speed, so I'm excited. I do think most of their best football is ahead of them for different reasons."

Gutekunst had no reservations about doubling up at the position so early in the draft, pointing out the importance of competition, particularly during transitions. The Packers are bringing back Josiah Deguara and Tyler Davis at tight end, but Robert Tonyan signed as a free agent with the Bears and Marcedes Lewis remains unsigned.

He also likes how both young tight ends are willing blockers, showing "toughness and grit" to complement their athleticism. Kraft's 4.69-second time in the 40 at the combine wasn't far off Musgrave's 4.61.

"I like being able to put your hand in the dirt and ferociously punish the man across from you," Kraft said. "I'm going to do what's asked of me."

Kraft dealt with a leg injury last season that required surgery and limited him to nine games, 27 catches, 348 yards and three TDs. Still, he earned third-team FCS All-America honors from the Associated Press following second-team recognition from his big '21 season.

Take a look at Packers TE Tucker Kraft during his college career.

He was not surprised to get a call from the Packers, having conducted two Zoom meetings previously with tight ends coach John Dunn, but the moment was still emotionally fulfilling.

He was watching the draft with around 100 family and friends back home in what he likened to a graduation party. It was one, of sorts, though perhaps it's fitting given his upbringing that Kraft isn't moving on to a big city but is headed to professional sports' smallest market.

Though they come from different backgrounds, Kraft and Musgrave will be linked in perpetuity now, and while they are similar players, they have their own ways of standing out.

Packers vice president of player personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan pegged "vertical speed" as Musgrave's most notable trait. What about Kraft's?

"Tucker's very good with the ball in his hands after the catch," Gutekunst said. "He's got really good balance and strength to break tackles and keep himself alive.

"I think these guys can do everything you ask a tight end in the National Football League to do. Again, they're young. They've got a lot to prove. But I like both the skill sets and I like both their work ethics."


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