NFL Analysis


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2024 NFL Predictions: Who Will Be This Year’s Breakout Tight Ends?

Green Bay Packers tight end Luke Musgrave (88) warms up before game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 season was the year of the tight ends. Several rookies had standout seasons, and a handful of Year 2 tight ends (Trey McBride, Jake Ferguson and Isaiah Likely) made big leaps. 

So, which tight ends will break out during the 2024 season? Here are three names to watch:

2024 Breakout Tight Ends

Luke Musgrave, TE, Green Bay Packers

The 2023 NFL Draft was loaded with tight end talent. Dalton Kincaid, Sam LaPorta and Michael Mayer were the top three tight ends in the class, and all had success as rookies. 

However, one tight end who went under the radar was Luke Musgrave, whom the Green Bay Packers selected as a mid-second-round pick.

Musgrave missed most of the 2022 college football season because of a Grade 3 MCL tear but still participated in the NFL Combine. Despite not being 100 percent healthy, Musgrave posted a 9.78 RAS after running a 4.61-second 40-yard dash at 253 pounds. His 1.54 10-yard split was one of the best for a tight end weighing more than 250 pounds, and it showed up on the field.

While he wasn’t a full-time player as a rookie, Musgrave caught 34 passes for 352 yards and a score. He averaged 34 yards per game before he suffered a lacerated kidney, which caused him to miss nearly two months. The good news is that he is fully recovered and should be the starting tight end in 2024.

The Packers selected two tight ends on Day 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft. Tucker Kraft was the other. He played a significant role after Musgrave went down but has missed the entire offseason rehabbing from a torn pectoral muscle. That has allowed Musgrave to see even more work with the first-team offense.

Musgrave could be a featured target sooner rather than later in an offense with ascending QB Jordan Love. His ability to run deep routes combined with his size and long speed will make him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. 

He isn’t the most dynamic player after the catch, but his game has some Jimmy Graham-like traits. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them all unlocked in Year 2. 

Indianapolis Colts TE Jelani Woods (80) is tackled by New York Giants safety Tony Jefferson (36). (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Jelani Woods, TE, Indianapolis Colts

Jelani Woods was the second tight end selected in the 2022 NFL Draft when the Indianapolis Colts selected him at the top of the third round. 

Woods posted unbelievable testing numbers at the combine, running a 4.61 40-yard dash at 6-foot-7, 253 pounds. He scored a perfect 10.0 RAS,  No. 1 among tight ends in NFL history at the time of his combine performance. To say he is an excellent athlete is an understatement. 

Despite minimal college production at Oklahoma State and Virginia, Woods was rock solid as a rookie. He caught 25 passes for 312 yards and scored three touchdowns in a part-time role. The Colts expected him to become their starting tight end in 2023, but a hamstring injury cost him his entire sophomore season. 

The good news is that Woods is healthy entering the 2024 offseason and has been present during the Colts' OTAs. Going into Year 3, he is set for a massive breakout season with coach Shane Steichen and QB Anthony Richardson. Their offense is predicated on RPO throws to the middle of the field, which is fantastic news for Woods. He can be a weapon down the seam because of his size and speed. 

Woods is a great athlete and has shown flashes when he has played. It's all about staying healthy because he should be a target hog in this offense. Don’t be shocked when he records 700-plus yards and scores double-digit touchdowns this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Cade Otton (88) is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles CB Avonte Maddox (29). (Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)

Cade Otton, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Of the three tight ends on this list, Cade Otton probably has the lowest receiving upside. He isn't the same caliber of athlete as Musgrave or Woods. But that's OK. There are plenty of good tight ends who aren't elite athletes. 

Instead, Otton is a well-rounded tight end who has earned snaps in his first two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a rookie in 2022, Otton started 11 games despite being a fourth-round pick. 

During that season, he caught 42 passes for 391 yards and two touchdowns. In Year 2, his snaps increased as he started all 17 games.

While his numbers only increased by a small amount, it’s worth noting the Buccaneers threw the ball 183 fewer times in 2023 than in 2022. To put that in perspective, Otton accounted for 8.5 percent of the passing offense in 2022. That increased to 11.9 percent in 2023. 

It's tough to earn targets in an offense with receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but Otton did that in Year 2 at a higher rate.

Otton will be an even bigger part of the offense in 2024, especially with this much experience already under his belt. He does a fantastic job of beating single coverage and is much better than expected after the catch. 

During the 2023 season, he averaged 5.1 yards after the catch per reception, per TruMedia. That was the ninth highest in the NFL among qualifying tight ends (minimum 30 percent of the team's offensive snaps). 

Otton is still developing as a blocker, but the Buccaneers give him tougher assignments than Woods or Musgrave. Heading into Year 3, he should make significant strides as a blocker and play an even more prominent role in the passing game. 

Otton isn't the league’s flashiest tight end, but he could be the next Dalton Schultz or Dallas Goedert for the Buccaneers.