Detroit Lions add upside to tight end group with Sam LaPorta at pick No. 34

Credit: HawkCentral-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: HawkCentral-USA TODAY Sports /

After an interesting first round, the Detroit Lions addressed a need for upside at tight end by taking Sam LaPorta at No. 34 overall.

The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft was interesting for the Detroit Lions, with a trade down and two picks that eschewed the consensus thinking about positional value. With their first pick of the second round, they selected Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta.

LaPorta is the second former Hawkeye for the Lions in this draft, joining linebacker Jack Campbell. They acquired the 34th overall pick in Thursday night’s trade with the Arizona Cardinals that led to them taking Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 overall.

Over his final two seasons at Iowa, LaPorta had 111 receptions for 1,327 yards and four touchdowns, topping 50 catches and 11 yards per catch in each campaign. Given how anemic the Hawkeyes offense was, that production looks even better. Last season, his 20 broken tackles were the fifth-most Pro Football Focus has ever charted for a tight end over nine years of grading.

2023 NFL Draft: Sam LaPorta could instantly become TE1 for the Lions

LaPorta is the latest member of the “Tight End U” that Iowa is to enter the NFL, closely following a fellow former Hawkeye in T.J. Hockenson, who the Lions traded last season.

LaPorta leaves Iowa City first in catches and second in yards in program history among tight ends, which is quite an accomplishment considering who they’ve sent to the NFL at the position (Hockenson, George Kittle, Noah Fant etc.).

The Lions add LaPorta to a depth chart that includes Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra and 2022 fifth-round pick James Mitchell. That incumbent trio helped set the Lions’ franchise record for touchdowns from tight ends last season, but the group begged for an addition in the draft.

Per Kyle Meinke of MLive, LaPorta nearly split his time equally split out wide (50.6 percent) and lined up as an in-line tight end or in the backfield (49.4 percent). He’s a legit passing game weapon, with soft hands and run after-catch ability. This may be the Lions’ TE1 pretty quickly, if not right from the start of the season.

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