Signs point to addition of Sam LaPorta unlocking little-used part of Detroit Lions 2022 offense

Bryon Houlgrave/The Register / USA TODAY

Sam LaPorta is undeniably the most talented tight end the Detroit Lions have, and he stands to unlock a little-used part of last year's offense.

The Detroit Lions were well in line to come out of this year's draft with a tight end, and indeed they did when they took Sam LaPorta early in the second round. LaPorta also immediately became the most-talented player on that depth chart, and after an outstanding showing during offseason work the skids are greased for the rookie to be the No. 1 tight end right away.

There doesn't seem to be much that could raise the ceiling of what was a top-five offense in the league by points and yardage last year. But a legit threat at tight end was one that was there to be seen. After the trade of T.J. Hockenson midseason last year, Lions' tight ends weren't much more than red zone producers--albeit on the way to setting the single-season franchise record for touchdowns from the position.

Addition of Sam LaPorta in line to unlock little-used part of the Lions' 2022 offense

According to The 33rd Team/Sports Info Solutions (with a huge h/t to Lions Wire), the Lions barely used tight ends in the slot after Hockenson was traded.

In Hockenson's seven games before being traded, he lined up in the slot a little over 30 percent of the time. From Week 9-18, that rate dropped to 16 percent, with nine combined targets (seven in the red zone) out of the slot between Shane Zylstra, Brock Wright and James Mitchell. Those nine targets to tight ends running out of the slot accounted for a mere 2.6 percent of Jared Goff's pass attempts from Week 9-18.

Ben Johnson wants to find ways to get even more out of the Lions offense this year. He surely quickly realized having a more dynamic threat at tight end is one obvious way to unlock some options in his playbook. In line with that, LaPorta carried his time last year at Iowa as far more than a pure in-line tight end right into offseason work with the Lions.