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Bold Bite: Lions rookie tight end Sam LaPorta could be Jared Goff’s best yet

The Detroit Lions rookie could quickly topple tight ends of the past in 2023.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome to a new series I am bringing to Pride of Detroit, called Bold Bite. In this series, I will discuss a bold prediction and expand on why I believe it could be a possibility it comes true. Some editions will be a solo piece like this one, others will have two to three bite-size predictions with a small explanation and analysis with it. If you know me, I tend to have some bold takes—nothing outlandish and flat-out crazy—but crazy enough it might just happen. So come with me on this journey and let me know how you feel in the comments.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Detroit Lions might have drafted their next weapon at tight end in Sam LaPorta. Yes, the former three first-round tight ends—Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron, and T.J. Hockenson—were supposed to be that weapon, but LaPorta is different. While I could go into the history of what has transpired with the former first-round picks and how LaPorta separates himself from them, this is more about who is throwing the football to him.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff has played with a few different tight ends in his career, and while Hockenson did have a career year last season with 914 yards and 86 catches, it was split with the Lions and the Minnesota Vikings. That means that the top tight end Goff has played a full season with is Tyler Higbee, who had a career year in 2019 with 69 catches for 734 yards. LaPorta could surpass Higbee in yards and become the top tight end that Goff has had in 2023.

LaPorta had back-to-back 50+ catch, 650+ yard seasons in Iowa in 2021 and 2022, and that was in an offense that relies heavily on the tight ends to be the main passing targets. In Detroit, he will not be the number one passing option, but he could certainly compete for that number two spot throughout the entire season. If he is able to transition his talent from college into the NFL, he could easily be the best tight end Goff has had on his team.

The biggest reason I believe this could happen is because of how little attention LaPorta will attract compared to the rest of the offense. The Lions have an impressive wide receiver room led by Amon-Ra St. Brown as the number one target, along with Jameson Williams, Marvin Jones Jr., Josh Reynolds, and Kalif Raymond. Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes drafted running back Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round in the 2023 NFL Draft with the expectation that not only will he run through the trenches, but he will be a receiving back expected to occasionally line up out wide or in the slot. With a room full of solid receivers and a running back expected to be a Swiss Army knife, that is when a tight end can show their true worth.

Sure, Williams will be suspended for the first six games of the season, but that is when I believe LaPorta will do the most damage. With most of the focus being on St. Brown, the other receivers will be looked at to step up and the opposing defenses won’t expect LaPorta to be the possible second option in the passing game early on in the season. By the time opposing defenses learn how effective LaPorta can be in the passing game, Williams will return from his suspension and they will have to decide who is the bigger threat, Williams or LaPorta?

It isn’t a coincidence that when Higbee had his career year, Goff threw the most passes he ever did in a season with 626. When the passing game is the primary way of moving the ball, you are going to give everyone a chance to help achieve that. Now while Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell might want to run the ball more than pass, this is the best set of weapons in the passing game he has had since getting hired in 2021. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson created some nifty plays last year, including this massive touchdown against the New York Jets to tight end Brock Wright.

When you have a coordinator like Johnson and the amount of weapons you have on the offense, you are going to do whatever you can to score, and it doesn’t matter what position you play. Whether that is through the air or on the ground, the Lions are going to be one of the best offenses in the NFL in 2023. In order to achieve that, you have to excel in either passing or rushing or be balanced in both.

In 2021, when the passing game struggled with the lack of talent at the wide receiver position, the Lions attempted 593 passes and ran the ball 427 times, with the offense averaging 19.1 points a game. In 2022 with better talent on both sides of the offense, the Lions attempted 588 passes and attempted 480 rushes, and averaged 26.6 points per game. I expect both of these numbers to increase in 2023 with the number of playmakers this offense has added in the offseason.

The biggest weakness on the offense last year after the Hockenson trade was the tight end room. While Wright, Shane Zylstra, and James Mitchell did well, they weren’t what Hockenson was. Insert LaPorta.

For him to surpass Higbee, LaPorta just needs to average 46 yards per game this season. With the kind of offense that Johnson will be running, especially once Williams returns from his suspension, LaPorta could easily achieve that and become a staple in the offense. If Detroit has a true weapon at the tight end position, it could just be what unlocks this offense and team to the next level.

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