Packers pick pass catchers on Day 2 of NFL draft: tight ends Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft, and receiver Jayden Reed

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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GREEN BAY − This wasn’t an ordinary draft. Not at this moment in Green Bay Packers history. Not with a young quarterback on the verge of replacing a hall of famer, surrounded by half-filled options to catch his passes, a roster that needed major reconstruction.

Any general manager with rudimentary understanding of the draft treats his board of prospects like gospel. The general manager lives by the board. The general manager fails by the board. Always the board. It takes months to meticulously compile, too much time and patience and preparation to discard, and Brian Gutekunst wasn’t about to make that mistake Friday night on Day 2 of the 2023 NFL draft. The Packers general manager craves talent, just look at his history of targeting athletes who test well in drills, but Gutekunst also followed an edict into the second and third rounds of this draft.

As the Packers entered a new era, Aaron Rodgers no longer the face of his franchise, Gutekunst knew he had no choice but to stockpile targets around Jordan Love. He methodically went through his checklist Friday night, drafting Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave with the 42nd overall pick, Michigan State receiver Jayden Reed at No. 50, South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft at No. 78. By the time he was finished, the Packers offense was unrecognizable to what it resembled entering the day.

Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave makes a catch in the end zone against Boise State.

With that trio joining second-year receivers Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure, Love is now barricaded with young pass catchers as his career elevates into a starting role.

“That’s a little bit of the idea,” Gutekunst said. “I think it’s important for those guys to grow together. We took some guys last year that did a really nice job in their first year. We’re excited for their growth. So now I think we have a good nucleus of guys, pass catchers, to be able to grow with the quarterback. I think that’s important, and we’ll see how it goes.”

For Gutekunst, the best part of Friday night was he didn’t need to abandon his draft board. He bought into the general belief around the league about this tight end class, that it was one of the best crops of talent the position has seen enter the NFL “in a while.” It came at the perfect time for a Packers roster depleted at the tight end position.

Musgrave is a silky-smooth target with natural route running and ideal size at 6-foot-6, 253 pounds. His 4.61 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, which included a 1.54 split in the first 10 yards, gives him dynamic potential to stretch the middle of the field. Asked what stood out about Musgrave in a loaded tight end class, Packers vice president of player personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan offered two words: “vertical speed.”

South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft leaps to catch a pass in the end zone against Holy Cross.

In Kraft, the Packers drafted a tight end who eschewed six-figure monetary offers from major-college programs last offseason to stay at the FCS level. At 6-5 and 254 pounds, Kraft’s 4.69 40 (1.59 10-yard split) was overwhelming in small-college football, helping South Dakota State win an FCS championship. He had 92 catches for 1,121 yards and nine touchdowns the past two seasons, and his blend of size and speed project as a potential playmaker in the NFL.

“Tucker is very good with the ball in his hands after the catch,” Gutekunst said. “He was a really good basketball player coming out of high school. I think he has very good balance and strength to break tackles and keep himself alive, but I think these guys can do everything you ask a tight end in the National Football League to do. They’re young, they’ve got a lot to prove, but I like both of their skillsets and both of their work ethics.”

The Packers’ newest tight ends don’t come without risk. Surgery to repair a torn medial collateral ligament ended Musgrave’s final college season after just two games. Kraft had a tightrope procedure to repair a knee ligament in 2021 and missed a chunk of the 2022 season with an ankle injury to repair a syndesmotic partial tear, the membrane that holds together the tibia and fibula. Gutekunst said the Packers thoroughly checked the checkered medical histories for both tight ends, who likely would have been drafted earlier with a clean bill of health, and expects neither to carry significant risk into the NFL.

Together, Musgrave and Kraft can develop side by side as they integrate into the Packers offense with Love. Kraft said he crossed paths with Musgrave during the pre-draft process, including a pre-draft visit with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Packers have had success double dipping at a position in the draft before, notably when they selected running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in 2017. The two became successful on the field and inseparable off it, building their NFL careers together.

It's easy envisioning Musgrave and Kraft forming a similar relationship.

“Luke Musgrave is one of the top guys,” Kraft said, “and I see myself as one of the top guys as well, and I would say the Green Bay Packers, I would say, did as well. But Luke, him and I got along very well at the combine. We took a 30 visit in Cincinnati, and him and I got along very well. We’re very social cats. We’re excited. I can’t speak for him, but I can speak for myself and say I’m excited to be in a room with him. Two guys inexperienced in the NFL process ready to pave our way to the Packers organization.”

Gutekunst’s insistence on adding pass-catching options for Love didn’t come without sacrifice. The Packers had no shortage of needs entering this draft on both sides of the ball. They still have an open starting spot at safety, and their defensive line lacks depth. Gutekunst had a chance to draft Alabama safety Brian Branch early in the second round, but he traded out of his No. 45 overall pick instead. Gutekunst traded back once more from Nos. 48 to 50 before drafting Reed, a versatile receiver the Packers believe can line up across the field.

Michigan State's Jayden Reed celebrates a touchdown against Rutgers.

At 5-11 and 187 pounds, Reed is naturally built to fill the Packers’ vacancy in the slot. Reed said he lined up regularly on the field’s perimeter at Michigan State, and his 4.45 speed (with a 1.57 10-yard split) should give him that option in the NFL. Reed had 55 catches for 636 yards and five touchdowns last season, including the game-winning score against Wisconsin in double overtime from 27 yards on third-and-12.

Reed said he wants to bring that kind of playmaking to the Packers offense.

“Just watch the tape,” Reed said, “and you’re going to get more than that. I’m working very hard to just improve all the points of my game that I need to improve. I’m a big-play guy, so I make contested catches in big-time moments, and I’m looking forward to adding that to the National Football League.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Branch with the 45th pick. It’s a trade Gutekunst perhaps wouldn’t have made if he was simply building a team for the 2023 season, but this draft is different. He’s building for the future, building around Love. If a defensive need goes unmet in the process of making Love’s entry into being a full-time starter smoother, the approach is worthwhile sacrifice.

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Coach Matt LaFleur won’t publicly share his opinions of the draft until after Saturday’s final rounds, but nobody could be more pleased with Friday’s selections than him. It’s no secret LaFleur, who runs a multiple scheme that includes plenty of subpackages, values the tight end position. Which is to say LaFleur’s offense has been hamstrung in recent years from the lack of dynamism at that position.

After Friday night, the Packers don’t believe they’ll have that issue for much longer. The question is how quickly the young additions at their skill positions can gel with their young starting quarterback.

“I think the expectations for our whole football team are very high,” Gutekunst said, “and certainly for Jordan as well. I don’t think we’re going to put any ceilings on that. Hopefully these guys can come in here and grow and add to that mix. I don’t want to say expectations are low. I think expectations are high, and we’ll kind of see how that goes, but we’re excited.”

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