After trading T.J. Hockenson in the middle of last season, the Detroit Lions notably targeted their tight ends less by any metric you can find. But such is life when the top two guys are Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra, with a sampling of a rookie (James Mitchell) who was working his way back from an injury in his final college season.
With the 34th pick in April's draft, the Lions paid off the sentiment they had to draft a tight end by taking Sam LaPorta. The all-time career catch leader for the position at the "TIght End U" that is Iowa, LaPorta was a standout at OTAs and he would be the Lions' clear-cut No. 1 tight end based on talent.
Even if he isn't where the Lions want him to be as an all-around tight end right off the bat, LaPorta has the pass-catching profile to be an immediate factor as rookie. Simply being able to line up in the slot and outside would add an element back to the Lions offense that went away after Hockenson was traded last year.
Sam LaPorta is garnering some easy fantasy football buzz
On a recent episode of the PFF Fantasy Football Podcast, hosts Nathan Jahnke and Jon Macri had LaPorta as one of their sleeper tight ends. A floor of five PPR points a week (three catches for 20 yards in the hypothetical) was discussed.
On Pro Football Network's recent list of fantasy sleepers to target, analyst B.J. Rudell made a case for LaPorta.
"Can rookie Sam LaPorta become the next T.J. Hockenson? He’ll certainly get every opportunity to do so in this offense beginning on Day 1.- BJ Rudell, Pro Football Network
With Jameson Williams suspended for the first six games and a top-heavy receiving corps that drops off significantly after Amon-Ra St. Brown (and Williams), LaPorta could enter Week 1 as the No. 3 offensive option and as the No. 4 option once Williams returns. If that plays out, then he’ll be a steal at his current market price."
Speaking of LaPorta's current market price. As of Friday (July 14), he's TE19 in ESPN ADP (full PPR), TE20 in Yahoo! ADP (0.5-point PPR) and TE22 in standard scoring. With the upside he has, into the top-15 or even top-12 (TE1 territory) for a season finish, that's nice-looking value.
If you combined what all the Lions' tight ends did last season in just catches and yards (66 for 784), that would've been TE9 (removing Taysom Hill) in full PPR. Give one guy say five of the 12 total touchdowns from the position, with a majority of the catches and yards, and there may be a fantasy TE1 in there.
The Lions' tight end pecking order could be (immediately, if not eventually) LaPorta and everyone else, or a four-man rotation if four tight ends are kept on the 53-man roster.
Of 15 tight ends drafted in the first two rounds from 2016-2022, hat-tip to Jeff Risdon of Lions Wire, here are some notes.
-Four had 40 or more receptions as rookies (though three had at last 60 catches). Three topped 500 yards as a rookie.
-Four had more than five touchdowns as a rookie, with two that had both 60-plus catches and five-plus touchdowns (Evan Engram and Pat Freiermuth).
-Engram is the only that had 60-plus catches (64), over 500 yards (722) and five or more touchdowns (six) as a rookie.
-Freiermuth barely missed having all three of 60+, 500+ and 5+ (60 receptions for 497 yards and seven touchdowns).
-Kyle Pitts and Noah Fant reached two of 40-plus catches, 500-plus yards and five or more touchdowns as a rookie. Fant barely did it (40 catches for 562 yards).
So history is working against LaPorta having a noteworthy fantasy season as a rookie.
For fantasy owners who wait to draft a tight end, and maybe come out of said draft(s) with two tight ends, LaPorta is in play as an option in the double-digit rounds (12th or 13th round based on current ADP). You certainly aren't going to come out of a draft with him as your only tight end, but the wide range of outcomes/risk is mitigated by the value in his ADP.