Tucker Kraft leads a handful of South Dakotans hoping to be selected in NFL Draft
South Dakota State tight end projected to go on second day of draft, but several other local standouts will be in the mix
BROOKINGS — Tucker Kraft is going to get drafted this weekend. The only question is where he's going and when.
The Timber Lake native and South Dakota State alum is one of the top available tight ends in a year where the NFL Draft pool at that position is considered especially deep, and when his name is called he'll be the fifth Jackrabbit to be taken since 2018. That was the year Dallas Goedert, another tight end from small-town South Dakota, was picked in the second round by the Eagles. Goedert has since become one of the top tight ends in the NFL, and most draft observers and experts like Kraft's chances of following in his footsteps.
Fresh off an impressive performance at his Pro Day in late March, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Kraft is projected to go sometime on Friday, in rounds two or three.
This year's draft, held in Kansas City, begins with Thursday's first round and concludes with rounds 4-7 on Saturday.
Tucker Kraft could go early
Kraft is the first Jackrabbit to leave school early to declare for the draft, and all indications are that he made the right call. After catching 65 passes for 770 yards as a sophomore, Kraft had offers from multiple power-conference FBS teams (that included six figures in NIL money) to leave SDSU, but stayed with the Jacks in hoping to lead them to a national championship. Despite missing eight games with a foot injury, he achieved that goal, finishing the season with 27 catches for 348 yards and establishing himself as a folk hero in his home state for his loyalty to the Jacks.
More than 10 teams had Kraft come to their facilities for in-person workouts, who followed up a pedestrian performance at the NFL Combine with an improved showing at his Pro Day, including slicing more than a tenth of a second off his 40-yard dash time, to under 4.6.
Now, in a draft class that's stacked with promising tight end prospects, Kraft ranks right there with all of them. He gets high marks for his size, speed, athleticism, body control, hands and especially his blocking. The most common criticism of Kraft is for his route-running.
Here's what some of the NFL Draft's top sources are saying about him:
- NFL.com: Kraft provides formational versatility that will be appealing for teams that make heavy use of 12 personnel (two tight ends). He has the body control and catch toughness to be more than just a traditional Y-tight end. Kraft has Day 2 talent and should see the field early with a chance to become a TE1 (starter).
- Pro Football Network: 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. As an athlete, as a blocker, and as a RAC (run after catch) threat in the short range and up the seam, Kraft brings a lot to like to the NFL game.
- Bleacher Report: Kraft is an exciting prospect. Tight ends with his size and athletic profile are exactly what the NFL is looking for, and he's also stepping into the pros as a ready-made blocker. Better yet, it's reasonable to expect Kraft to improve his deficiencies as a route-runner with good coaching.
And here are some of the projected landing spots for Kraft:
- The Athletic: Round 2, Jacksonville, No. 56
- Pro Football Focus: Round 3, Chicago, No. 70
- NFL.com: Round 2, Detroit, No. 55
- Walter Football: Round 3, Las Vegas, No. 100
Other locals hoping for a shot
Kraft is the only player from South Dakota who knows for sure he'll be taken at some point this weekend, but a handful of others have an outside shot at being selected in the later rounds. If that doesn't happen, opportunities will be there for several to sign as rookie free agents after the draft.
Seth Benson, linebacker, Iowa (Sioux Falls Washington)
A multi-year starter with the Hawkeyes, Benson isn't showing up on many mock drafts despite being an All-Big Ten performer. But his polish and character would make him an attractive option for teams looking for special teams help and/or linebacker depth.
Spencer Waege, defensive end, NDSU (Watertown)
A four-time national champion with the Bison, the former Arrow was a two-time all-conference pass rusher and and two-time All-American. He had nine sacks last year and 20.5 in his career.
Alex Jensen, offensive tackle, USD
A four-year starter for the Yotes, the 6-foot-7, 290-pound Minnesotan was a solid bookend tackle for USD, and was taken in the 7th round of the USFL Draft back in February. A nagging injury limited Jensen at his Pro Day, but he's hopeful to get a call on Saturday.
Eli Weber, safety, Augustana
One of the most consistent and productive defensive players in the NSIC throughout his career, the 6-foot, 210-pounder hopes to be the latest Viking to work his way from rookie free agent to an NFL roster.
Caleb Sanders, defensive tackle, SDSU
A three-time all-conference pick, Sanders was a wrecking ball in the middle for the Jacks defense, and with 6.5 sacks in 2022 was one of the most important players on SDSU's national championship run. The 6-foot, 285-pounder had an excellent showing at SDSU Pro Day, showing impressive quickness and explosiveness with more than 20 NFL scouts on hand.
Thuro Reisdorfer, running back, USF (SF Washington)
A three-time 1,000-yard rusher for the Cougars, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound former Warrior showed impressive athleticism at the SDSU Pro Day, and could be a candidate to get into a camp where his versatility could help him impress as a tailback, fullback or special teamer.