Kraft making an Impact

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Without Luke Musgrave, who has been on IR since Week 12, Tucker Kraft has been thrust into a much larger role within the Green Bay Packers offense, and the third-round pick has made the most of his recent opportunities.

“If you look just throughout the course of the season,” said Matt LaFleur on Tuesday, “you could argue he’s just as improved as anybody. He’s consistently making plays, and he’s doing a good job. You see the production in the passing game, but I think the run game has gotten so much better.

“It’s not a shock to me. The guy shows up every day. He does a great job in practice, and he’s developing really good habits, and I think that’s when you see improvement.”

Even before Musgrave’s injury, you could see the growth that Kraft was experiencing this season in the number of snaps he played each game. Through the first five games of the season, he was averaging 12 snaps per game. But in Weeks 7 through 11, that average jumped to 36.

Now, over the last three games, instead of just primarily being utilized as a blocker, Kraft has been tasked with more pass-catching responsibilities in Musgrave’s absence and has played nearly all of the Packers’ offensive snaps during that span as the top tight end option.

Since Week 12, Kraft has caught 9-of-11 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown. He ranks eighth among all tight ends in those games in average yards after the catch (YAC) with 7.6, according to PFF–an area of his game where he excelled in college while at South Dakota State.
Along with as a pass catcher, Kraft’s impact is showing up in the Packers’ run game as well, with two recent examples being in the New York game, where Kraft threw key blocks on a pair of designed touches for Jayden Reed that went for chunk gains. Over the last three games, Kraft ranks 11th out of 73 tight ends in PFF’s run-blocking grade metric.
“He’s a very strong player,” said tight ends coach John Dunn, “whether that’s strong hands, in the run game blocking, whatever the case may be. He’s got really good body movement. Really good body control, and he really is a strong, thick player, and that’s something that has benefitted him certainly. Then again, as technique comes along with that, it can enhance and bring out your strengths as well.”

With a skill set like Kraft’s on the field – and Musgrave fits this mold as well – who can impact both the run and passing games, a level of unpredictability is added to the Packers offense. Pre-snap, when a tight end is effective in both areas, it’s more difficult for defenses to decipher what the tight end’s role is going to be and whether a run or pass play is coming. That added versatility also opens up the playbook for Matt LaFleur.
Throughout training camp and even the early portion of the season, you could visibly see the learning curve that Kraft was experiencing as he made the jump from the FCS to the NFL, and doing so at one of the more difficult transitions in football at tight end, where there are numerous responsibilities as both a blocker and pass-catcher.
However, as the season has progressed, more reps – both in practice and in-game – means more confidence for Kraft and a higher level of execution.
“Just my confidence,” said Kraft when asked where he’s seen the most growth this season. “The repetition breeds confidence. Just getting the chance to rep something over and over and over again, and then knowing your rules that apply to that play, it just builds confidence in your ability to execute.”
Prior to the Detroit game, offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said that while there may be some things that the team won’t ask Kraft to do that Musgrave would, he also added that for the most part, the game plan each week will remain unchanged with Kraft as the starter.
Although there isn’t anyone who can replace the size and speed combination that Musgrave brings to this offense, the play of Kraft over the last three weeks has helped make the transition for the offense easier, with his ability to impact the game both as a blocker and a pass catcher.
”He has a love for the game,” added Dunn. “Just more of his mentality and the way he plays the game. He attacks the game, whether he’s blocking, catching, running, it doesn’t matter.”
 
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