Future Looks Bright At Tight End

General manager Brian Gutekunst turned the Packers’ biggest weakness into a potential strength in the span of 90 minutes last Friday night. That’s how long it took him to draft Luke Musgrave at No. 42 and Tucker Kraft at No. 78, a pair of talented tight ends who almost certainly would’ve gone 10 to 15 spots higher had they not suffered injuries last season.

Musgrave, my No. 2 tight end behind Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, played only two games for Oregon State in 2022 after injuring his MCL in early September. Before getting hurt, the 22-year-old caught 11 passes for 169 yards and 1 touchdown. He underwent surgery but returned for the Senior Bowl in January and then ran well (4.61) at the NFL Combine.

In those two games against Boise State and Fresno State, Musgrave resembled a slightly faster and more physical Dallas Goedert, a second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018 who’s performed at a Pro Bowl level the past couple of seasons.

Musgrave has the skill set to be the Packers’ best all-around tight end in years. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and can turn short gains into big plays. He’s also a solid blocking technician in-line and at the second level. His biggest negative is the limited number of snaps he logged at Oregon State. Musgrave played in only 20 games and caught only 47 passes due to COVID and the knee injury. That lack of game experience showed up occasionally, especially when he allowed himself to be jammed and rerouted off the line of scrimmage by less talented inside linebackers and defensive backs.

It’s been years since the Packers had a tight end who could consistently threaten the seam. Musgrave (#88) moves effortlessly for such a big man.

While the Packers should have their tight end of the future in Musgrave, that future might not truly begin until 2024. Very few rookies have immediate success in the National Football League, even those drafted in the first round who played many more games in college than Musgrave. Indy’s Dallas Clark (2003), San Francisco’s Vernon Davis (2006), Chicago’s Greg Olsen (2007), Cincinnati’s Tyler Eifert (2013), Cleveland’s David Njoku (2017), and Denver’s Noah Fant (2019) are just a few of the talented tight ends who needed a year or two before they made a significant impact at the next level.

None of this is to suggest 2023 will be a redshirt season for Musgrave. He won’t have that luxury considering the other tight ends on the Packers’ 53-man roster are expected to be nondescript veterans Josiah Deguara and Tyler Davis, who have combined for a mere 47 receptions, 432 yards, and 2 touchdowns in 74 games, and fellow freshman Kraft. Look for Musgrave to flash from time to time, but Packers fans must be patient because the finished product should be worth the wait.

Speaking of Kraft, he was my No. 4 tight end, ahead of a couple of more heralded prospects, Iowa’s Sam LaPorta and Georgia’s Darnell Washington. While the 22-year-old from South Dakota State isn’t quite as athletic as Musgrave, he moves more than adequately for a player who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs over 250 pounds. Kraft was a mismatch vs. man coverage and threatened every level of the defense in his last two seasons at SDSU, albeit against a lower level of competition.

As was the case with Musgrave, an injury also hampered Kraft in 2022. A badly sprained ankle suffered in the season opener limited him to nine games, and he never looked healthy. But his production in 2021 – 65 catches for 773 yards and 6 touchdowns – along with a strong showing at the Combine, kept his stock from falling too far heading into the draft.

Look for coach and play caller Matt LaFleur to employ Kraft more as a blocker next season. He’s very raw as a receiver and must be coached up as a rookie. He needs to learn how to sharpen his routes and become more crafty at shaking coverage. He should also spend as much time as possible with the JUGGS Machine because he sometimes fights the ball.

Along with selecting wide receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs last spring and Jayden Reed last Friday night, Gutekunst has used the past couple of drafts to completely rebuild a pair of positions that have seen veterans Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, and Marcedes Lewis depart in the past 15 months. The goal will be for these five young players to develop along with new starting quarterback Jordan Love. And while there will almost certainly be plenty of bumps in the road, the future of the offense looks a lot more promising now than it did five days ago.

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Michael Rodney

Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for over 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2004. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey and covered the Philadelphia Eagles for WTXF-TV. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published, and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.

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Bryan Johnson
Bryan Johnson
May 3, 2023 3:23 pm

Do you have any sense of the Shanahan/McVay/LaFleur offense is more tight end friendly than other offenses? The transition is difficult from college to pro, but is there any reason we can expect more contributions from these two guys based on the LaFleur scheme?

May 3, 2023 3:54 pm

Nice post, Michael.

It always means more to me when you really like a player because you don’t give away compliments like candy at Halloween. Hopefully, you’re right about Musgrave and Kraft because a good tight end is a quarterback’s best friend. It would be great if Love has two new best friends.

Bryan Johnson
Bryan Johnson
Reply to  Drew
May 3, 2023 6:22 pm

It’s impossible not to get excited thinking of TWO tight ends who can stretch the field. The way it would open things up for Watson/Doubs/Jones is scary.

May 4, 2023 8:14 am

Although I root extra hard and appreciate the efforts of less talented players, I’m glad our Gm finally gets that in todays modern game you need size and athleticism at the position. I’ll trust Mike’s evaluation that these guys are excellent prospects.

May 4, 2023 11:01 am

The only thing better for a young QB than one talented tight end is two talented tight ends. After watching Tonyan and Deguara catch and fall for the past few seasons, I’m looking forward to seeing Musgrave make some tacklers miss in the open field.

Bryan Johnson
Bryan Johnson
Reply to  Alan
May 4, 2023 11:09 am

Tight ends can make people miss in the open field? I didn’t think that was allowed.

May 5, 2023 4:08 am

i was pleased with the Packers picks on Day 2 of the draft. it took me a moment to acknowledge the upside of Jayden Reed. i liked the two tight end picks immediately. it will be up to the QB and the offense to take advantage of the talent that BG has brought to GB. let me put on my rose-colored glasses and hope for the best possible outcome.

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