The Detroit Lions went back to the Iowa well of tight ends in the second round by selecting Sam LaPorta with the 34th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. While there will certainly be a visceral reaction to taking an Iowa tight end just six months after trading away T.J. Hockenson, I do see the rationale with this pick.
Let’s get into it with my instant reactions to the pick.
The Lions stay economical at tight end
Why would you trade one Iowa tight end just to take another one? Simple: money. Hockenson will play on an expensive $9.4 million fifth-year option for the Vikings. Meanwhile, the Lions won’t be spending more than $2 million in cap space on any of their current four tight ends. And with now LaPorta and last year’s draft pick James Mitchell on staff, the Lions have a young core at tight end they can feel good about.
Lions get a legit receiving threat
Yes, we all know the Lions got a ton of touchdowns from their tight end corps after the Hockenson trade, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra, and James Mitchell aren’t exactly a huge threat to opposing defenses. Those three combined for 389 yards for the entire season, while LaPorta has put up over 650 yards in back-to-back seasons at Iowa.
Not only that, but LaPorta is yet another athletic freak. His 4.59 at the NFL Combine was good for third in this class. He has a RAS score of 9.01, and he athletically compares to a couple of other notable Iowa tight ends:
RD 2 | PK 34 - Lions: Sam LaPorta TE, Iowa— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) April 28, 2023
The latest athletic tight end to come out of Iowa, LaPorta earned an 86 athleticism score after his performance at the combine. He replaces former @HawkeyeFootball TE T.J. Hockenson, who the Lions traded away to the Vikings last season. pic.twitter.com/d21dQwagYp
Yet another offensive weapon
While the Lions haven’t added a potential need at the wide receiver position, those worried that Detroit may be short of weapons during Jameson Williams’ six-game suspension can breathe easy now. Both LaPorta and first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs give offensive coordinator Ben Johnson two new toys in the passing game—both capable of making big plays. Check out these Iowa highlights of LaPorta.
Hey @Lions fans, you're going to want to check out @HawkeyeFootball's @Samlaporta's top ️ favorite plays. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/ZWy34h6qC2— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) April 28, 2023
Best tight end available?
LaPorta was between TE4 and TE6 on most big boards, including Daniel Jeremiah, Lance Zierlein, Dane Brugler, and PFF. With only Dalton Kincaid off the board at the time, it was interesting to see the Lions prefer LaPorta over them all. He doesn’t offer the blocking acumen of someone like Darnell Washington, and many believed if the Lions were going to prioritize receiving skills, they’d go with Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer—who went to the Raiders with the very next pick.
It’ll be interesting to hear why the Lions liked LaPorta over them all.