With Luke Musgrave injured, Tucker Kraft steps into larger role for Packers

With Green Bay Packers tight end Luke Musgrave not having practiced the first two days this week as he nurses an ankle injury he suffered in Denver, fellow rookie Tucker Kraft appears to be in line for his first NFL start and a larger role against Minnesota.

“He’s played 30-some odd snaps last week,” said Matt LaFleur on Thursday. “He’s done a nice job. He’s gotten acclimated to this type of football in the National Football League, and he’s going to have to play big for us this weekend.”

Through the first three games of the season, and if we include Josiah Deguara as a tight end, Kraft was the fourth tight end on this Packers team in terms of playing time.

However, with his continued development throughout the season, we’ve seen Kraft’s role increase on offense. Over the last two games, he has been the second most snaps at the position, behind only Musgrave, and played a career-high 32 snaps against Denver.

Kraft’s role has consisted of primarily being a blocker, with 58 of his 93 total snaps coming in that capacity, according to PFF. He’s caught both of his targets for five yards this season.

As a blocker, you could definitely see, especially early on, the transition that Kraft was having to make, jumping from the FCS college level to the NFL. But he has continued to settle into his role and currently ranks 39th out of 82 tight ends in run-blocking grade and 17th in pass-blocking grade.

“I’m really fired up about him,” said offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich. “Every week, he’s kind of gotten a little bit more of a load. A little bit more, and he’s done a good job. He’s coming along.”

Against Minnesota this week, Kraft is going to have to play a key role as a blocker in both the run and pass games. This is a blitz-heavy Vikings’ defense that leads the NFL in blitz rate. If the Packers are unable to find some sort of success on the ground or Jordan Love is under constant pressure, that is going to put Green Bay in long down-and-distance situations where this offense has really struggled this season.

With how often the Vikings blitz, along with the recent shaky play of the Packers’ offensive line, leveraging the quick passing game feels like a must on Sunday, and that will be a great opportunity to get Kraft involved, allowing his yards after the catch (YAC) ability to take over.

At South Dakota State, Kraft averaged a whopping 8.0 yards after the catch in 2022 and forced nine missed tackles on only 21 receptions. The year prior, with a much larger sample size, he averaged an impressive 5.8 yards after the catch.

“I think in the run game,” said Kraft at his locker on Thursday, “I’ve got some really strong hands. At the point of attack in a kick out, throw me in motion to take on larger guys in the run game. Pass pro-wise, once I get my hands on somebody, I can stay in really good body position. My hat, hands, and feet. I think the reason I’m playing in the NFL is because of my YAC capabilities in college.”

LaFleur discussed on Thursday that one of the contributors to Green Bay’s slow starts on offense is their inability to pick up chunk plays, whether that be on short area throws or when trying to push the ball downfield. Explosive plays lead to points, and Kraft feels he can give the offense a spark in that regard with just a little bit of space to operate within.

“I’m really excited,” added Kraft, “if the Vikings want to go all out, we get in a hot situation, and I’m in the flat, catch the ball, drop step, get up field, and make some magic happen. That’s where a lot of explosive plays happen they leave someone in the flat, they break a tackle, and it’s a 20-yard gain. Those are the kinds of plays I’m looking forward to. I’m going to do what’s asked of me to the best of my ability.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire