REPORT: Kraft Discusses Viral, Violent….

Yards after the catch was a calling card of Green Bay Packers rookie tight end Tucker Kraft’s play at South Dakota State. How would that trait hold up against NFL competition?

Just ask Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans, who was flung to the turf by Kraft’s violent – and viral – stiff-arm on Sunday night.

“I think it’s just the mentality,” Kraft told Packer Central. “The mentality I have when you catch the ball and you turn up and you just want to make a play. You want to get the extra yards after contact and, like I’ve said time and time again, I feel like that’s something I can bring to the table every single time.

“I don’t think it matters what route you throw to me. If I got some space, I can get a lot more out of it. So, like a play like that, stiff-arm, that’s like really cool, but I want that to be a normal thing. It’s just having that opportunity to get full extension and put your fist in somebody’s face.”

It sure beats trying to hurdle defenders and getting hit in sensitive areas or landing hard on his back.

“He’s a big-bodied guy,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said. “When he lowers his pads and gets his momentum going, you can tell that DBs don’t really like to tackle him too much on the sideline. So, he’s been impressive. Hopefully, we get a lot more of that.”

Kraft is in the process of demolishing the Packers’ third-round curse due in part to his physicality as a receiver and blocker. That was one of the traits that stood out to Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst upon making the selection.

“Tucker’s very good with the ball in his hands after the catch,” he said at the time.

Very good, indeed. Of the 48 tight ends to be targeted more than 25 times in the passing game, Kraft ranks No. 1 with 7.7 yards after the catch per catch, according to Pro Football Focus. Among all rookie tight ends, Kraft is fourth with five missed tackles forced.

In YAC per catch, Kraft is No. 1 among all Packers receivers and tight ends.

Kraft ran over and through a lot of defenders in college, but that was against a bunch of FCS-level defenders who will never get a sniff of an NFL roster. So, Kraft had to show he could do it against professional competition.

“In camp, you know, everything’s just a thud tempo,” he said. “You never get a chance to display it. You don’t get a chance to display a lot of your abilities until after the season starts. When the games actually come around, those are the times you actually get to display a lot of abilities that people don’t get to see at camp.”

Those abilities weren’t seen earlier in the season, either. The first four games, he played only 38 snaps. But Kraft began to earn more and more playing time. And then, fellow rookie tight end Luke Musgrave suffered a lacerated kidney against the Chargers. In Musgrave’s absence, Kraft has played at least 54 snaps in each of the last six games, including all 68 against the Giants and 95-plus percent playing time in four games.

With opportunity has come production. With production has come more opportunities.

Heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears. Kraft has caught 28 passes for 324 yards. He caught two passes during the first eight games and 26 passes during the last eight.

The last four games: four catches for 64 yards against the Giants, four catches for 57 yards against the Buccaneers, four catches for 60 yards against the Panthers six catches for 48 yards against the Vikings.

To Stenavich, Kraft’s limited role early in the season had nothing to do with adjusting to the level of competition. Rather, there were problems lining up in the right spot and blocking the right defender.

“Once he started figuring it out, then you could see, ‘OK, this guy has got a lot of talent,’” Stenavich said. “A credit to him. I don’t know if there’s a guy that works harder behind the scenes than him with just how he prepares. He’s in the film room, he’s asking [position coach John] Dunn questions all the time, so he’s one of those kids that it’s just super-important to. He really, really prepares hard, so you’re seeing it now. All the success he’s having is coming to fruition.”

Musgrave might be back in the lineup on Sunday against the Bears, a playoffs-or-bust showdown at Lambeau Field. The Packers probably will ease him back into the action after missing the last six games.

Regardless, Kraft figures to be a mainstay on Sunday and a whole bunch of Sundays to come.

“With Luke going down, just need somebody to step up in that role,” quarterback Jordan Love said, “and he’s done a really good job and has just blossomed and he’s out there making play after play. He’s been huge.”

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