The Other McCain

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‘Generational Wealth’ and the NFL Draft

Posted on | April 28, 2023 | Comments Off on ‘Generational Wealth’ and the NFL Draft

South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft

Thursday night, my brother Kirby and I went out to Chili’s, where all the TVs were on the NFL Draft. Being a Patriots fan, of course, I was most interested in who New England would draft in the first round, and was very pleased by their moves. They traded down (from 14th overall to 17th overall), picking up an extra fourth-round pick in the process, and chose Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzales — a steal at 17, because many had Gonzales ranked as the top cornerback in the 2023 class. Meanwhile, of course, the University of Alabama was well-represented in the draft, with quarterback Bryce Young going as the No. 1 pick to the Carolina Panthers, linebacker Will Anderson Jr. going at No. 3 to the Houston Texans, and running back Jahmyr Gibbs going to the Detroit Lions at No. 12.

As soon as I woke up, I began searching for inklings of what the Patriots might do in the second round of the draft, and was skimming over Alex Barth’s “big board” choices when I noticed the name Tucker Kraft.

Six-foor-five, 254 pounds, tight end who caught 65 passes for 780 yards and six touchdowns with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits his sophomore season. He suffered an ankle injury that limited his playing time last season, but is still one of the best tight ends in the country.

The guy’s name is Kraft, OK? The owner of the New England Patriots is Robert Kraft, so how in the world could they not draft this guy?

He hails from the tiny town of Timber Lake, South Dakota (population 513), and has a keen sense of what’s at stake in his professional career. His father Doug, a standout college athlete who never made it to the pros, was killed in a small plane crash in 2013. Doug Kraft was a self-described “proud redneck” and, among his several endeavors in a farming region, flew planes as part of his crop dusting business. His father’s death affected Tucker Kraft deeply, and something he has said in interviews illustrates what a thoughtful young man he is:

“I’ve never like really thought about doing football and taking my skills to the next level as doing it for me. I’ve always thought about doing it for other people. Setting my family up for generational wealth.”

The phrase you’re looking for is servant leader or, to use another analogy, he is a work horse who knows why he’s pulling the plow.

The chance to play in the NFL is a rare opportunity. There are 32 teams, each of which has a 53-player active roster, so at any given time there are only 1,696 active players in the league, not counting practice squads, and most players who are drafted don’t last more than five years in the NFL.

However good you were in college, you enter the league as a rookie, and have to earn your roster spot through competition, a competition that never ends. Every player is working to get better all the time — lifting weights and running drills in the off-season, studying game videos to improve their technique, etc. — and ultimately no player is guaranteed a roster spot. To obtain “generational wealth” in an NFL career, a player has to make it past his four- or five-year rookie contract, and do so as a bona fide starter, to get that big free-agent contract worth many millions of dollars. Just this week, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson signed a five-year, $260 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens, including $185 million guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $52 million. That’s MVP quarterback money, and there’s no way even the best tight end in the league is ever going to get paid that much, but it gives you an idea of what “generational wealth” can mean in the NFL.

On the other hand, things can go badly. Alabama fans were shocked and heartbroken in 2021 when Henry Ruggs, a star wide receiver for the Crimson Tide who was drafted in the first round by the Oakland Las Vegas Raiders in 2020, was arrested in a vehicular manslaughter case, where he was driving his Corvette drunk at more than 120 mph in a wreck that killed a woman. Good-bye, “generational wealth.”

Then there was the case of former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, drafted in the first round by the Washington Redskins “Commanders” in 2019. Haskins was later traded to Pittsburgh, but on an April morning in 2022, Haskins was drunk (with a .20 blood alcohol level) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when his rental car ran out of gas on I-595, and he tried to cross the expressway on foot. Haskins got run over by a dump truck, then hit by an SUV, and died on the scene. No “generational wealth” for the Haskins family.

Some of the most elite athletes, chosen in the first round of the NFL draft, never succeed as pros for one reason or another, while others who are much less highly touted go onto Hall of Fame careers. Certainly every Patriots fan knows that Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick (199th overall) in the 2000 draft, while Julian Edelman was a seventh-round pick (232nd overall) in the 2009 draft. And you can guarantee that, as a tight end, Tucker Kraft knows that Rob Gronkowski — arguably the best tight end in NFL history — was a second-round pick (42nd overall) in 2010.

Earlier this month, the newspaper in Brookings, S.D. — home of South Dakota State — did a feature story about Tucker Kraft:

Tucker Kraft participated in South Dakota State’s pro day on Friday morning and the tight end who is hoping to get drafted at the end of April improved his numbers in the 40-yard dash and his standing vertical.
At the NFL Combine in the beginning of March, Kraft ran the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds. On Friday, he ran it in around 4.5 seconds, which is not official because there was not an official clock. Kraft jumped 34 inches in the vertical jump at the combine and on Friday he measured out at 36.5 inches.
Kraft said he didn’t like the way he performed at the combine, so he wanted to make sure he improved his numbers on Friday.
“I was not happy with my results at the combine. The combine is glamorized, but after doing it and competing, I understand why some people want to do away with it. It’s hard. It’s hard on the athletes. You know, we consider ourselves high performance athletes and the combine makes me feel a little less like that. But no, I had a good time. I was incredibly grateful to be there. But I knew when I got back to Brookings, I had to turn it up a notch. I had to get more into football shape,” Kraft said.
The 40-yard dash and the vertical were the only things that Kraft participated in on Friday. He said he only wanted to do those two things because he knew he could put up better numbers and those two things are what scouts pay attention to the most.
“Well, I wanted to run a faster 40 because that’s where the money is made. I feel like I made myself a little bit of money today. And then I wanted to jump higher because I know I can,” Kraft said.
After the combine, Kraft came back to Brookings and has been working out every day on campus. He said he’s had a number of teams reach out to him in the past month and he said it’s been fun being able to just talk football with coaches.
“It’s really been pretty easy [talking to teams]. I enjoy it. A lot of guys that had [prepared for the draft] in the past said, hey man, this time sucks, you don’t feel like any of your time is yours. But you know, the coaches contact you and they ask what times work for you. So, I do like one or two meetings every single day from 4:30 to dinner. All we do is talk about my life before college, talk about my college career. They install some plays and play some highlight clips of my blocking and passing. … It’s really just talking football,” Kraft said
Although he said the interview process has been pretty easy, Kraft did have one team make it tough on him. The New England Patriots met with Kraft at the combine and all they did was show mistakes that he made.
“I feel like personally I’ve aced every single interview that I’ve been a part of. One that went otherwise was I was at the combine and I had 15 formal interviews, I think that’s the most you can have at the combine. I was with the Patriots and it was pretty chill, we were talking about Pierre [Strong Jr., who was drafted by the Patriots last year], it was laid back, we were just chatting, and then all of the sudden they just put on instead of a highlight tape, it was a lowlight tape. Just clips of me not executing and just asking me what was going on,” Kraft said. . . .

(Wow — testing his mental toughness? Shrewd!)

Kraft, who caught 99 passes for 1,211 yards and nine touchdowns in his four years at SDSU, is projected to go in the second or third round in many mock drafts. He said he will be spending draft weekend, which is April 27-29 in Kansas City, in his hometown of Timber Lake with his family and friends.
“I’ll be back home in Timber Lake, South Dakota. I’ll have a decent gathering of friends and family. Hopefully people don’t feel too bad if they’re not invited. I want the people that have really been a part of my football journey [there]. … Close friends and family [will be there],” Kraft said.
Kraft is looking to become the 24th Jackrabbit to be drafted and the fifth since 2018. Fellow tight end Dallas Goedert 49th pick in the 2018 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Kraft said all of the work that he’s put in so far is so that he can provide for his family.
“Come draft day, I want my name to be called early. That’s my priority. That’s why I tried to execute as well as I did during pro day. I’m not really doing any of this for me. I’m doing this to set my family up, my future kids, their kids, generational wealth. I’m trying to create something here and establish a legacy in my name to take care of my friends, my family and my community,” Kraft said.

This guy’s got “Patriot” written all over him. Round Two and Round Three of the NFL draft are tonight. We’ll see if the Patriots give Kraft his chance at “generational wealth.”




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