Tucker Kraft breaking Brian Gutekunst's third-round "curse"
After missing on nearly all his third-round draft picks, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst appears to have found a gem in tight end Tucker Kraft.
In 2018, then-new Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst conducted his first draft. That rookie class featured his first All-Pro selection, cornerback Jaire Alexander, as well as multiple useful role players like wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. However, Gutekunst's third-round pick that year, linebacker Oren Burks, never came close to living up to his potential in Green Bay. He made just seven starts for the Packers before departing at the end of his rookie contract.
Even so, Burks arguably ranks as a success compared to other third-round picks from Gutekunst's subsequent drafts. His 2019 third-rounder, tight end Jace Sternberger, couldn't last long enough to see a third season in Green Bay. Josiah Deguara, another tight end selected near the end of Day 2 the following year, will see the end of his contract but barely left a mark on offense. Wideout and returner Amari Rodgers proved disastrous with the Packers cutting him midway through his second season. Guard Sean Rhyan played exactly one snap during his rookie season, and though he has shown signs of life in Year 2, the jury remains out on his selection.
By the time the 2023 NFL Draft arrived, Gutekunst's track record in the third had grown so dismal that countless fans pleaded online for the GM to trade out of the round. Instead, the Packers held onto the pick, taking South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft.
Though the selection didn't garner heavy criticism in the moment, the decision did seem to echo some of Gutekunst's past misfires. Counting Kraft, half of the GM's third-round picks had gone toward tight ends with none of the previous ones suggesting the Packers' front office could properly evaluate the position. And Gutekunst had already used significant draft capital on a tight end that day, grabbing Oregon State standout Luke Musgrave 36 picks earlier.
Training camp and the preseason seemed to establish Kraft's place in the tight-end hierarchy, one that didn't suggest huge early returns for Gutekunst's latest third-rounder. Musgrave rose to the top of the depth chart while Deguara would handle certain situations and mostly serve as the backup. Kraft flashed at times, particularly as a blocker, but he hadn't carved out much of a niche before the regular season began.
And indeed, Kraft did little during the first month of the 2023 season. His first target didn't arrive until Week 4, and he entered November with just two catches for 11 yards in total. The tight end did see extensive action on special teams, though front offices rarely spend top-100 picks to bolster the third phase. Though Kraft's rookie year to that point didn't doom him to the same fate as Gutekunst's other third-rounders, it didn't offer much evidence of a different outcome either.
Then the chessboard shifted. Musgrave, who through two months had put himself on pace to break Sterling Sharpe's record for catches by a Packers rookie, lacerated his kidney in a game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Deguara also departed that game with a hip injury. That left Kraft as the next man up for Green Bay's offense.