Training camp is less than two weeks away for the Green Bay Packers. As part of my preview, I will be highlighting all 91 players on the Packers roster as I make my way through each position group, taking a look at what I’ve seen during the offseason programs, where things stand, expectations, and more. I’ll also be making a final roster prediction as well.
Up next are the tight ends, a position group that has a ton of upside and potential but also a lot of inexperience.
With the additions of Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft, some needed playmaking and versatility were added to this tight end unit. But as Matt LaFleur has often pointed out this offseason, the leap from college to the NFL may be the second toughest behind only the quarterback, which is why we rarely see first-year tight ends make a big impact. This, in large part, is due to all of the responsibilities that come with this role, including run blocking and pass blocking like an offensive tackle, knowing route concepts like a receiver, and being moved all over the formation.
However, the Packers appear more than willing to weather the storm that comes with relying heavily on rookie tight ends. Green Bay had one of the highest 12 personnel (two tight end sets) usage rates in football last season, and that will likely continue into 2023. Being thrown into the fire, so to speak, will hopefully shorten the learning curve for Musgrave and Kraft, leading to a greater impact sooner, resulting in more big play potential for the offense and less predictability from this position group.
If you’ve missed any of the other previews in this series, you can find them below:
All of a sudden, Josiah Deguara is the most experienced player at this position group, entering his fourth NFL season. However, from a technical standpoint, Deguara is an H-back, not even a tight end. Last season, Deguara played a small role in the passing game but saw his snap count increase as the year went on and was a very effective blocker.
With his versatility, the H-back plays an important role in the Matt LaFleur offense. By being able to line up all over the formation, including in the backfield, and impact the run game as a blocker and the passing game as a pass catcher or a blocker, Deguara helps create that illusion of complexity that we hear LaFleur discussing. In short, this means keeping defenses off-balanced and guessing by running a variety of plays from just a few personnel packages, thus creating opportunities for others within the offense.
My guess is that, ideally, the Packers want Deguara taking as many snaps at H-back as possible, but I do wonder if he takes on more tight end responsibilities early on in the season. Of course, Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft are going to be big parts of the offense, but the Packers might not want to throw everything on their plates right away either. Instead, they may want to see the rookies excel in specific roles first before giving them more responsibilities. This would then give Deguara additional tight end-specific opportunities to fill in where needed.
Not that Deguara is going to be a big part of the passing game in terms of targets, but I do expect his snap count this season to increase as the offense shifts more toward the LaFleur style, which again, has a defined and important role for the H-back.
Luke Musgrave brings speed and playmaking ability to the tight end position that the Packers just haven’t had. As LaFleur said following one offseason practice, “he’s different.” Musgrave’s ability to win downfield won’t only create big-play opportunities for himself in the passing game but also for others within the offense with the attention that he draws and the spacing he forces the defense to create. This was an aspect that the Green Bay offense didn’t have last season, with Robert Tonyan’s 8.9 yards per catch ranking 34th out of 43 eligible tight ends, according to PFF.
Following the NFL Draft, GM Brian Gutekunst would call Musgrave an “all-around” tight end, referring to his blocking abilities along with being able to affect the passing game. While we will see Musgrave lined up in-line and used as a blocker, his primary responsibility early on very well could be as a pass-catcher. We are going to see him lined up often in the slot as well as on the boundary to create mismatches. Last season, nearly 20% of Tonyan’s snaps came lined up outside.
Although many rookie tight ends don’t end up producing significantly as rookies, Musgrave is going to have the opportunity to shake that trend. Throughout OTAs and minicamp, he was frequently with the starting offense during team drills, showcasing that right away, he is going to be a major part of the offense–as he should be.
If we were to put these players into buckets, then Musgrave is the F-tight end, and Tucker Kraft is the more traditional in-line Y-tight end. With the versatility that both of these players possess, neither will be confined to one defined role or alignment, but I could see Kraft taking on more blocking responsibilities early on. Like Musgrave, Gutekunst would call him an “all-around” tight end following the draft, with over 500 run-blocking snaps at South Dakota State.
Where Kraft really shined in college as a pass catcher was with his ability to pick up yards after the catch–another element that was missing in the Packers’ tight end room. During his shortened 2022 season, Kraft averaged a whopping 8.0 yards after the catch. In 2021, he averaged 5.8 yards.
With Kraft and Musgrave, while it may take some time, having a pair of tight ends will add some needed unpredictability to the offense. With the potential impact that each player can have in both the running and passing games, it will make it more difficult for defenses to decipher what each player’s responsibilities are, leading to matchup problems and opportunities for the entire Packers offense. A year ago, the Packers tight ends had very defined roles, with Tonyan being the primary pass catcher and Marcedes Lewis being used mostly as a blocker. This took some of the guesswork away from opposing defenses.
Tyler Davis is the clear fourth option in this tight end room. After leading the team in special teams snaps in 2022 and finishing second on the team in total special teams tackles, Davis figures to play a large role in that capacity once again.
Davis’ role on offense will be small, but it may not necessarily be nonexistent either. Last season, he played 175 offensive snaps, and as is the case with Deguara, he could be asked to fill a specific role as the rookies get their feet under them. However, with that said, it’s not as if Davis will just be handed those responsibilities, it’s an important summer for him from a development standpoint. He has to show progression.
The Packers signed the massive Austin Allen, who stands 6’8″ and weighs 253 pounds, to the practice squad late last season. He went undrafted in 2022 out of Nebraska and posted a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 8.08. In college, he caught 73% of the 89 passes thrown his way and averaged 15.0 yards per catch.
He has run-blocking experience with nearly 900 snaps in that role at Nebraska and ranked 35th among tight ends in PFF’s run-blocking grade for the 2021 season. Also noteworthy, about one-third of his total snaps came from the slot, showcasing some versatility, which we know is important.
McDonald signed with the Packers after this year’s draft as an undrafted rookie out of Florida State. He stands 6’4″, weighs 245 pounds, and recorded a RAS of 2.52. At Florida State, McDonald was targeted 114 times, catching 65% of those passes at 11.7 yards per reception, although he averaged 15.0 yards in 2022, with five touchdowns.
McDonald spent 33% of his career snaps in the slot, had 784 as a run-blocker, and 470 on special teams. He would rank 28th this past season in averaged yards after the catch among all tight ends.
Josiah Deguara, Luke Musgrave, Tucker Kraft, and Tyler Davis
This may be the easiest position on the roster to predict. Deguara, Musgrve, and Kraft are roster locks, while Davis is close to that with his ability on special teams. Maybe there is a scenario where Allen or McDonald push Davis for a roster spot if he isn’t taking a step forward this summer, but I also think there is value in having Davis’ experience within the LaFleur system in this young tight end room. Allen and McDonald would also have to really stand out on special teams in order to be a true threat to Davis’ roster spot.
If there were to be a shakeup at this position group, perhaps it would come in the form of the Packers only keeping three tight ends on the 53-man roster, allowing them to go heavy at another position. With the NFL’s practice squad elevation rules, that would still allow them to have four tight ends active on gameday. However, that isn’t what I expect to happen either. Davis is a core special teams player, and this is an important and often rotated position group where depth is crucial.