Outside of a player or two, tight end classes don't usually garner extravagant first- or second-round draft hype. However, the 2023 NFL Draft was a different story for the position, and the Green Bay Packers believe they snagged the top player in the group at pick 42, selecting Luke Musgrave.
Musgrave, known for having tremendous speed and athleticism, creating separation, and finding holes in the defense, is likely the first tight end selected in most drafts.
However, in his last season for the Beavers, he only appeared in two games, posting 80 and 89 yards receiving, before sustaining a season-ending injury. At that time, NFL scouts widely regarded him as the top tight end in the country.
The injury helped slide Musgrave right into Green Bay's lap on draft night, being the third tight end selected in arguably one of the deepest draft classes for tight ends in history.
Per Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated, Musgrave became only the fourth rookie under head coach Matt LaFleur to begin training camp as the starter, joining Darnell Savage, Josh Myers, and Quay Walker.
In the Packers' Family Night game, Musgrave played well, moving all over the field and cooking Packers safety Darnell Savage on a route.
He routinely takes over the offense in camp and demonstrates he's also a willing and fluid blocker, which is critical now that the team has lost Marcedes Lewis to the Chicago Bears.
Reflecting on numerous updates coming out from PFF during the Packers' joint practice with the Bengals before their preseason game, Peter Schrager of Good Morning Football commented: "The amount of love that I saw for Packers tight end Luke Musgrave this week is out of control."
What can we expect from Luke Musgrave in rookie season with Packers?
In the game against the Bengals, Musgrave's stat line, one catch for eight yards, hardly reflects how dynamic he was in limited snaps.
On Musgrave's lone catch, he used his speed to cross the face of the defense to get open in the flat for an easy completion.
Love later missed a wide-open Musgrave, crossing the middle of the field on third-and-7. Usually a 'routine' throw, Musgrave drove upfield, effectively cleared behind the linebacker in coverage, and was alone in space.
While he was not targeted on a play lined up on the boundary, it was hard to believe seeing a Packers tight end lined up on the outside, running like a gazelle past a defensive back on a deep route.
Per Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com: "He’s sudden in his release and is a weapon running down the seam. He pulls away from second-level defenders and can naturally high point the football."
During the game, the Packers lost tight end Tyler Davis to a torn ACL, creating a demand for Musgrave's role to grow quickly.
Despite rookie tight ends historically not producing much, with only six players ever posting over 700 receiving yards and only four since 2002 with 60 or more catches, the Packers are showing immense confidence in Musgrave.
He's lined up tucked into the line of scrimmage, in the slot, and on the boundary to exploit mismatches at 6-feet-6, clocking an impressive 4.61 40-yard dash (fourth among rookie tight ends).
Musgrave also benefits from former tight end Josiah Deguara being listed as a fullback/H-back for the 2023 season, often lining up in the backfield.
Fellow Packers rookie tight end Tucker Kraft, drafted 36 picks after Musgrave, is another intriguing option who will garner his share of targets with similarly rare size, speed, and athleticism. However, he will primarily line up as a traditional tight end on the line of scrimmage.
Seeing that LaFleur is continuously experimenting with getting Musgrave positioned for a mismatch, either with his size, speed, or both, it's easy to buy in that the team has high expectations for the rookie.
Now Chicago Bears tight end Robert Tonyan last season posted the most catches (53) from a tight end in Green Bay under LaFleur, and besides his 2020 outlier season, the tight end group has been mostly a dud in LaFleur's offense.
Since 2019, the starting tight ends combined for seven touchdowns outside Tonyan's 11 in 2020. But throughout camp and into the preseason, the feeling from practices is that the position will return to relevance with Jordan Love under center.
Musgrave hopes to be the Packers' long-term solution and provide the positional stability this franchise has been searching for since losing Jermichael Finley in 2013.
With his rare size and speed combination, versatility, and an immediate starting job, there's anticipation mounting around the rookie.
For Musgrave to fully seize the opportunity, he will need to limit drops and be effective after the catch. If he does, he could walk away from this season as the top rookie tight end in the class.
Projection: 51 receptions, 650 yards, five touchdowns