Heading into training camp, there was a lot of excitement around the young core of pass-catchers that Brian Gutekunst has drafted recently. The extent to which they’d be formidable in 2023 was uncertain, and they’ve been encumbered with the same growing pains as Jordan Love in the entire offense. But just like Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs a year ago, second-round rookies Jayden Reed and Luke Musgrave have shown signs of what could be on the horizon.
In his relatively limited opportunities, Reed has been absolutely electric. He has found the end zone a handful of times and shown off his sideline-to-sideline quickness. He’s a similar archetype to standout Houston Texans rookie Tank Dell. The differences in their production and media coverage can be attributed to C.J. Stroud’s emergence, which is in stark contrast to Love’s performance this season. More significantly, Reed undeniably resembles a young Randall Cobb. With a similar size and skillset, Cobb went on to have a long, outstanding career in Green Bay.
Musgrave hasn’t flashed as much as Reed, but he’s just as important to the long-term plan. And, crucially, although opponents have limited him to only one touchdown this season, the opportunities have very much been there. It won’t take much for him to have a second-half breakout. Matt LaFleur should prioritize maximizing Musgrave in what is pretty much a lost season.
Tight end has been an interesting position in Green Bay for a long time. Many would argue that Jermichael Finley, whose career abruptly ended following a 2013 neck injury, was the last tight end to make a big impact on the Packers. There was no shortage of attempts to find that missing offensive element, with Jimmy Graham, Martellus Bennett, and Robert Tonyan headlining that group. However, with Aaron Rodgers heavily utilizing the boundary and carving up defenses no matter who was on the field with him, they got away with it for most of his tenure.
Even in his early starts, one of the big takeaways with Love was that he was going to use the middle of the field. Therefore, Gutekunst spent two of his three Day 2 picks on tight ends, with South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft being the other. Despite the short distance between them in the draft order, it became clear throughout the summer that Musgrave would be the guy. His combination of speed and a 6’6” frame theoretically made him the perfect safety blanket for Love. While we have yet to see him dominate, we’ve seen him wide open down the seam a couple times a game and improvements in his run blocking.
So, what has to happen for Musgrave to reach the next level? Well, there’s been one primary criticism that’s surfaced nearly every week: He hasn’t been good after the catch. In fact, he’s been comically bad at times, prompting a flood of these memes on Packers Twitter. Plays like this make it easy to understand why. Tonyan may not have been the long-term answer. But he ran angry after the catch and fought for every yard during his time in the green and gold.
If Musgrave can add that element to his game, he will raise his ceiling dramatically. Snap count, target share, and pass-heavy game script when the team is down will all continue to be in his favor. The ingredients for a breakout are absolutely there. It could be one with implications not only on Green Bay’s future but also late-season fantasy football, where reliable tight ends are almost always few and far between.
It remains to be seen exactly where Kraft fits into this picture, but it’s clear that Green Bay has big plans for Luke Musgrave. As the Packers continue their crawl back to relevance, he will play a key role in an offensive that is ripe with specialized skill players. There is still some stuff to figure out when it comes to having a true No. 1 target. We still don’t know whether Christian Watson rises to that occasion or Green Bay will need outside help.
But other than that, the pieces are in place as long as Love can win enough games to keep Gutekunst away from the top of this year’s QB class. Growth will mainly be a function of time and experience. It will continue to be exhausting for a fanbase used to winning, but ideally some exciting performances down the stretch will provide some optimism for the long haul.