The 2023 NFL Draft boasts one of the best and deepest tight end classes in recent memory. This class is full of big, strong, and athletic tight ends, and could wind up benefitting from a relatively weak receiver class. It’s unlikely, but we could see as many as three tight ends go in the first round, and six (or more) starters come out of this draft class.
South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft isn’t the biggest, strongest, or fastest tight end in this draft class. Likewise, he’s coming from the FCS ranks, and doesn’t have the big-school pedigree that Georgia or Notre Dame confer. However, he’s versatile and very well-rounded.
The New York Giants had a similar prospect emerge as an immediate starter last year in Daniel Bellinger. Could they decide to double down on that (obviously successful) skill set?
Prospect: Tucker Kraft (85)
Games Watched: vs. Colorado State (2022), vs. Northern Iowa (2022), vs. Illinois State (2022), vs. Montana State (2022)
Red Flags: Ankle (2022)
Games Played: 32
Yards (YPC): 1,211 (12.2 per catch)
Games Played: 9
Yards (YPC): 348 (12.9 per catch)
Best: Size, long speed, blocking, play strength, versatility
Worst: Agility, quick-twitch athleticism
Projection: A starting tight end with scheme versatility.
South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft is an athletic, tough, and versatile tight end prospect.
Kraft has good size for the position at the NFL level, standing 6-foot, 3 ¾ inches, 254 pounds. He has the size to hold up while blocking as an in-line tight end, but isn’t so big that he can’t move around the offensive formation. The Jackrabbits played Kraft as a traditional tight end, but also moved him into the backfield as an H-back, into the slot, and even out wide as a wide receiver.
Kraft is an athletic tight end with solid speed in the open field, at least once he’s able to lengthen his stride. He is able to threaten defenses vertically down the seam and does a good job of locating and tracking the ball in the air. His size and catch radius make him a viable checkdown target, or in the short-to-intermediate area of the field on quick passes. Kraft is a “hands” catcher who’s a reliable receiver in traffic or in contested catch situations.
Interestingly, he was used as a ball carrier on “quarterback” sneaks in 4th and short situations. His power and lower-body strength made him difficult for defenses to stop when motioning under center at the last second.
Kraft was primarily a blocker in the South Dakota State defense, and executed well in pass protection and run blocking. He generally blocks with good leverage, keeping low pads and solid hand placement. While Kraft’s technique isn’t consistently perfect, he makes a consistent effort to win opponents’ chest plates and gain control to torque them away from the play. He does a good job of straining to sustain his blocks, and has plenty of play strength to win against linebackers. He isn’t capable of stonewalling defensive linemen, but he loses slowly enough for it to count as a win. Kraft is at his best in zone blocking schemes, and executed well on both the back side and play-side.
Kraft is a good athlete for the tight end position, but he isn’t a particularly quick or twitchy one. He doesn’t really explode off the line of scrimmage or into his blocks, and he needs to gather himself on sharply breaking routes. That can give defenders an opportunity to close down on him on underneath routes and make catches more difficult than they need to be.
And while Kraft ran a relatively diverse route tree, he needs to improve his precision as a route runner. His routes tended to get rounded and he didn’t appear to use them as a weapon to generate separation from defenders. He will need to get better at finding the soft spots between coverage zones to be a consistent check-down option at the NFL level.
Overall Grade: 7.5
Tucker Kraft projects as an important TE 2 early in his career, with the upside to be a starting TE in an 11-personnel offense before his rookie contract is up.
Kraft is a versatile, well-rounded tight end who can do everything a modern NFL tight end is routinely asked to do. He isn’t the biggest, strongest, or most athletic tight end, but he rates well in each of those areas. He has the size and strength to hold up as a blocker – and even create movement in the right situations. He’s athletic enough to be a capable receiver in the short or intermediate area, as well as downfield against Cover 3 defenses. And he’s versatile enough to be a moveable piece for a creative offensive coordinator.
Kraft will certainly benefit from coaching at the NFL level and his best football is still ahead of him. He suffered a nasty ankle injury that required surgery to repair on the first drive of his senior year and could prove to be more athletic a full year removed from the injury. Likewise, he could make better use of his physical tools as he hones the finer point of his craft as both a receiver and blocker. Kraft could wind up being a mid-round steal in a talented tight end class.