With an opportunity in front of him, coupled with his talent, Lions tight end Sam LaPorta is an easy fantasy football winner among rookies from the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Detroit Lions tight end depth chart was begging for a talent upgrade, and it got one with the selection of Sam LaPorta with the 34th overall pick.
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.
LaPorta ran a sub-4.6 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, with a 1.59-second 10-yard split. As shown by the chart below, that combined with his after the catch ability lands him in an elite tier of tight ends.
Lions rookie tight end Sam LaPorta an easy fantasy football winner from 2023 NFL Draft class
The history of rookie tight ends as viable fantasy commodities is not good. Even a 1,000-yard season from Kyle Pitts in 2022 came with just one touchdown. So that’s working against LaPorta and his draft classmates this year.
But LaPorta has shown up on two lists of fantasy winners after the draft.
Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus has LaPorta among his five biggest rookie winners. Here are some notable notes.
-LaPorta avoided 20 tackles last season, which ranked second among tight ends.
-The Lions threw to tight ends at an above-average rate in 2021 during Dan Campbell’s first season. This continued in 2022 while Hockenson was still on the roster, but the tight end targets plummeted once Hockenson was traded
-LaPorta should be the clear-cut starter, unlike Dalton Kincaid and Michael Mayer, who will face competition from at least one veteran during their rookie seasons.
-His competition is a combination of Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra and James Mitchell.
-The Lions’ wide receiver room isn’t as strong in 2023 as it was in 2022.
-LaPorta might not be a fantasy starter as a rookie, but he should be a favorite late-round option with the upside to reach the top 12.
Jennifer Eakins of 4for.4 com is similarly bullish about LaPorta in a broader list of fantasy post-draft winners.
After trading T.J. Hockenson to the Vikings midway through last season, the Lions were in need of some TE help. Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra, and James Mitchell managed to put nine touchdowns on the board but the target share for the position dropped from 18.1% to Hockenson in the first seven contests, to no more than 5.7% for the remaining three in the TE room.
Enter Sam LaPorta, who should be the clear-cut starter which is rare for a rookie at his position. Plus, the Lions WR room isn’t as strong as it was in 2022 with D.J. Chark now in Carolina, and Jameson Williams serving a six-game suspension. Expectations should be lowered when it comes to rookie TE success, but with a current Underdog ADP of 17.07 as TE27, there’s certainly value in investing in LaPorta to make a leap into TE2, even possible TE1 territory.
With some boom games, the Lions tight ends set a single-season franchise record for touchdowns from the position last season, with 12. Combined, including seven games from T.J. Hockenson, Lions tight ends had 66 receptions for 784 yards last year. Just the catches and yards, in full PPR, would have been TE9 if it had been one guy last season (I’m not counting Taysom Hill as a tight end).
Give LaPorta a lion’s share of that production (pun half-intended), with five or six touchdowns, and he could be a TE1 in fantasy as a rookie.
The simple equation for fantasy value is this: Talent plus opportunity. Both things are in LaPorta’s corner immediately.