The first half of the Detroit Lions’ 2023 season was, without a doubt, successful. A pair of 3-1 quartets have the Lions tied for the second best record in the NFL with a two-game lead on the rest of the NFC North.
Most Lions fans were pretty optimistic about the team heading into the season. In fact, I had predicted them to be 6-2 at the bye week (as did Erik Schlitt) in our projections back in May.
But even the most optimistic of fans are likely surprised by some of the developments from this team. Not many believed the Lions would be sporting at top-10 defense (by DVOA) at this point in the season. Even fewer expected Alex Anzalone to be one of the best players on that side of the ball through eight games.
So today’s Question of the Day is:
What has been the biggest surprise from the first half of the Detroit Lions’ 2023 season?
My answer: Without a doubt, it’s the start of the season for Sam LaPorta.
Even after a very strong offseason that had me thinking LaPorta could be more impactful than the typical first-year tight end, I don’t think I had anything like this in mind. To give you a sense of how special his rookie season is, his 434 receiving yards already ranks as the 54th-best season for a rookie tight end—that’s if he doesn’t catch a pass for the rest of the year. Even if he gets just 100 more yards, that would catapult him 26th in NFL history—one ahead of the franchise record set by Charlie Sanders in 1968 (533).
But here’s the thing: LaPorta’s receiving is only half the story from the rookie’s fantastic season. He’s been an active, physical, and effective blocker in the run game. It hasn’t been perfect and he was humbled a couple times on Monday against a guy like Maxx Crosby (who wouldn’t be?), but overall the run blocking has been way more impressive than some of predecessors. His 63.6 PFF run blocking grade ranks eighth (of 38) among tight ends with at least 100 run blocking snaps.