Every cycle, the FCS ranks churn out at least a couple of early-round prospects. South Dakota State TE Tucker Kraft is one of those players in the 2023 NFL Draft class. Kraft has the tools to not only be the first FCS player off the board but also one of the first prospects selected at his position.
Tucker Kraft NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Tight End
- School: South Dakota State
- Current Year: Redshirt Junior
- Height/Weight: 6’5″, 254 pounds
- Length: 32 3/4″
- Hand: 10″
Kraft is as close as you’ll get to a bowling ball at 6’5″, 254 pounds, with absurd density reminiscent of a neutron star. Now, imagine Kraft as a running back. That’s what defenses were tasked with dealing with when Kraft was in high school.
At Timber Lake High School, Kraft was the South Dakota equivalent of Derrick Henry. As a senior, he put up 1,405 yards and 24 touchdowns. Across his four-year starting career, he put up 50 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards on the ground. Kraft also played linebacker, punter, and even took reps at quarterback.
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Predictably, Kraft remained in-state as he transitioned to college, joining up with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. He redshirted his freshman year, making an impression on the scout team, then began to see more reps on offense in spring 2021.
Kraft eventually became a premier weapon for the Jackrabbits, catching 65 passes for 773 yards and six touchdowns in the fall 2021 campaign. In 2022, despite missing several games with an injury, Kraft was able to add 25 catches for 318 yards and three scores.
Kraft’s career path — from being a high school RB, to a scout team member, to an FCS All-American TE — has ultimately led him here, to the doorstep of the 2023 NFL Draft, where he’ll look to solidify his future in the NFL.
Tucker Kraft Scouting Report
Tight ends come in many different molds and variations, but the mold that Kraft fits will be especially appealing in the modern NFL. Here’s why.
At the FCS level, it’s easy to see how Kraft stands out from his peers. He has a strong, stocky frame with decent functional length. And while he may not be a transcendent athlete, Kraft easily passes the threshold desired from an NFL starter and has an arguably elite athletic profile.
How an FCS athlete translates to the professional level can be a concern at times, but Kraft shows the necessary functional athleticism on tape, and he also confirmed this athleticism with his testing numbers at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
At the NFL Combine, Kraft logged a 4.69 40-yard dash (with a 1.59 10-yard split), a 34″ vertical, a 10’2″ broad jump, a 4.29 shuttle time, and a 7.08 three-cone, along with 23 bench reps at his size. Every single one of his numbers, save for his weight, was in the 74th percentile or higher at the TE position, and overall, he compiled a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.65, ranking 38th all-time at the TE spot.
At his size, Kraft is a smooth athlete with easy accelerative capacity in space. He flashes great foot speed and urgency as an accelerator, with the explosiveness to quickly enter space and threaten up seams. In space, Kraft has good long speed — enough to be a threat stretching the field horizontally and turning ahead for RAC yards.
While he’s more of a vertical mover than a lateral one, Kraft has good lateral mobility as well. He flashes great lateral agility and hip freedom in smaller areas, with the lateral freedom and foot speed to quickly swivel around on short comebacks. Going further, Kraft flashes the ability to one-cut in space and redirect around blockers to maximize RAC opportunities.
Of course, athleticism is only half the equation for tight ends. One of the most important traits, for a player expected to invite contact and physicality, is the ability to convert at the catch point and in contested situations. Though he can improve a bit here on the technical side, Kraft absolutely has the traits to deliver.
Kraft is able to extend beyond his frame and proactively corral passes in-stride with his hands. He also has good ball-tracking ability downfield. The South Dakota State TE maintains his stride while securing passes and moving upfield. He’s also shown to lower himself to account for under-thrown passes and maintain hand-eye coordination.
Especially in imbalanced situations, Kraft shows glimpses of exceptional hand-eye coordination. He can secure passes with impending contact over the middle of the field and convert on later-down opportunities. He’s also shown to dive for low passes and make high-difficulty adjustments. On the other end of the spectrum, Kraft can work vertically and high-point passes as well.
In a physical game, Kraft may be one of the most physical, imposing players on the field — and that doesn’t hurt his chances, either. The South Dakota State TE can easily pry through contact at the catch point and keep his legs moving to maximize gains. He’s incredibly strong after the catch, shoving defenders into the turf with forceful stiff-arms and actively combating tackle attempts while keeping his stride. He’ll also quickly recalibrate after scraping through arm tackles.
After the catch, Kraft quickly resets his feet to prepare for RAC and carry his momentum upfield, and he consistently churns his legs through direct contact and finishes forward as a RAC threat.
With his frame density, leg churn, and functional vertical athleticism, Kraft can be very difficult for DBs to slow down. He also brings good protective instincts in space, as he’ll change hands based on defender leverage to maintain ball security. It’s no surprise to see this RAC ability, given Kraft’s background as a running back.
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Run after catch will be one of Kraft’s primary usages early on, but he does have a degree of natural separation ability. On quick-rounded breaks, Kraft has shown he can maintain efficiency, using curvilinear acceleration to sustain speed along paths. He’s also flashed discipline with his eyes, delaying head turns to avoid tipping routes to DBs.
Off the snap, Kraft uses a split release to gain displacement and explode upfield, and at the intermediate level, he’s displayed the ability to cut stems fairly tightly with foot speed and agility. With his athleticism, he’s able to run crossers and find soft spots in intermediate zones.
Kraft’s physicality serves as an extra boon. He can use targeted chops to swipe away defender jams and escape into space.
Any concerns evaluators have about Kraft in the immediate timeline will be diluted by his already-elite ability as a run blocker. In the blocking phase, he brings a highly appealing mix of tools, and fuses it all together with a finisher mentality, often torquing defenders into the turf.
Not only is Kraft a high-effort, high-energy blocker who goes to the whistle and maximizes power output with drive and extension, but he’s also assignment-sound, alignment-versatile, and understands leverage. His athleticism and corrective mobility allow him to recover angles as a blocker, and he can flip his hips to wall off defenders in gaps.
Expanding on his blocking, Kraft has shown to square up defenders and stay latched with sturdy play strength. He also naturally acquires leverage with good knee bend and lean, and can fully extend into blocks and replace hands. Alongside it all, Kraft is an alert blocker who can quickly shift focus, consistently generating good leg drive after contact.
Kraft’s Areas for Improvement
Above all else, Kraft can still seek further refinement as a route runner. There are moments where he could do a better job pressing into stems to adequately bait and displace defenders. He also sometimes relies on his physicality to a fault, trying to go straight through defenders. In the process, he works himself upright and stalls his momentum.
Overall, Kraft plays too upright as a route runner. He doesn’t have great natural hip sink, and his overarching consistency could improve.
Outside of that department, there are other operational issues to note. As a receiver, Kraft sometimes seeks to tuck the ball into his torso before properly securing it with his hands, resulting in drops. He’ll also clap-catch at times, and can more consistently maintain diamond technique to guide passes in.
As an athlete, while Kraft passes the desired threshold, he does occasionally appear a bit lumbering as a mover and can be more consistent in channeling his acceleration upfield. Additionally, while Kraft’s 10-yard split was above the 90th percentile, he doesn’t always channel high-end initial burst out of cuts and breaks and is best when he has space to sustain his strides.
In the blocking phase, while Kraft is truly exceptional, he doesn’t quite have elite play strength. As a result, he can be wrenched off-balance by powerful defenders. Meanwhile, in pass protection, he sometimes extends before his feet are set and brushes past opponents with his hands.
Current Draft Projection for South Dakota State TE Tucker Kraft
Kraft carries a mid-to-late Day 2 grade as a prospect and is one of the top tight ends in the 2023 NFL Draft. He isn’t at Michael Mayer‘s level in terms of route refinement or catch-point consistency. But as an athlete, as a blocker, and as a RAC threat in the short range and up the seam, Kraft brings a lot to like to the NFL game.
Kraft is an exceptional athlete with great size, but his frame is also incredibly strong, dense, and compact, and it translates extremely well in contact situations. He’s a very tough player to take down in the open field. Kraft’s functional lateral agility helps, but even more valuable is his smooth long-strider athleticism and his ability to churn through tackles and impose his will on DBs.
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Kraft can churn out extra yards with the ball in his hands, and he has the ability to make adjustments at the catch point and maintain his stride while picking up short targets. What’s more — Kraft is a developing separator who’s flashed solid route nuance. And his elite blocking ability and alignment versatility only ensures that he’ll see the field quickly in the NFL.
While Kraft has room for added refinement in several areas, he’s well-rounded enough to make an impact early in his NFL career. He should see starting reps in Year 1, and he has the physical tools and physical demeanor to grow into a high-quality starter with ample two-phase appeal.
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