After the Lions traded away tight end T.J. Hockenson last season, there became an obvious need for talent at the position. The Lions did what they could with Shane Zylstra and Brock Wright but we all knew that it would only get them so far as an offense.
Fortunately for the Lions, they were able to land Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta in the 2nd round of the 2023 NFL Draft. After drafting him, it was clearly identified that there was a need for more talent at the tight end position in Detroit. So far, it looks like LaPorta is exactly what Detroit needed.
Through two games this season, LaPorta has been targeted 11 times. This has resulted in 10 receptions for 102 yards and six first downs. While his debut against the Chiefs was good, his performance against the Seahawks in week two was even more impressive. Let’s jump into the film room to see how good LaPorta was for Jared Goff and this offense of the Detroit Lions!
The first play I want to highlight from Sam LaPorta against Seattle was his first catch of the day. On the play above, the Lions are faced with a 2nd-and-2 and come out aligned in an empty set. While there are three hitch routes ran, the route to focus on is the crosser from LaPorta. Even though he was initially covered, the key is how LaPorta comes back towards the quarterback. Jared Goff extends the play towards the sideline and in the process, LaPorta works back towards him to become open. It’s a veteran play from the rookie tight end.
When looking back at the college tape of LaPorta, he was a willing blocker. He needed more refinement but one thing for sure is that he’s willing to get dirty and try to bury a defender into the dirt on a run play. So far this year, LaPorta has had some misses when blocking.
Fortunately, the play above is a terrific win for LaPorta. As the defensive end attempts to blow up the play, LaPorta keeps his pad level low prior to contact. As he makes contact, he uses his outside hand to hook into the armpit of the defender and he just powers forward for a huge block that helps clear a path to the end zone for David Montgomery.
The next play I want to focus on is a play-action pass where the Lions come out in 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends). Looking at the play above, the Lions put WR 11 Kalif Raymond in return motion prior to the snap. After the snap, Goff fakes the hand-off to Montgomery and looks deep down the field for the two vertical routes being run by the receivers.
While everything is covered, Goff waits for LaPorta to check/release and get to the middle of the field. LaPorta check releases well on this 2nd-and-4 and then shows good run-after-the-catch ability while breaking a tackle. This is a promising sign that can help the Lions in the short and intermediate areas of the field if Amon-Ra St. Brown is limited at all moving forward.
The next play that I want to focus on is potentially the play of the game for the Lions. Looking at the play above, the Lions are facing a 3rd-and-12 from their own 48-yard line. Pre-snap, they have LaPorta run return motion to the right side of the formation to have a 2 x 2 set post-snap.
Once the ball is snapped, LaPorta clearly runs a slant route to the middle of the field. Despite having a defensive back (DB 8 Coby Bryant) down in the box and playing tight coverage, Goff finds a way to fit this pass into the hands of LaPorta.
Despite complimenting Goff on the throw, this pass is primarily completed because LaPorta simply took it away from the defender. Meanwhile, he displays another good run after the catch where he’s able to get an additional 4 or 5 yards. This was a key catch in the 4th quarter during a key drive that the Lions needed.
Not only did LaPorta make one key play on the drive we just talked about, he actually made two key plays! The Lions are down 10 points and have less than five minutes left in the game. From the Seattle 29-yard line, the Lions come out in another 2 x 2 set.
Looking at the play above, you can see LaPorta aligned in the slot as the Y-receiver. After the ball is snapped, he runs a curl route and despite two defenders closing in on him to make the tackle, he shows tremendous strength to keep his feet.
He’s able to stay upright and is able to run after the catch and get his team down to the 6-yard line of Seattle. This helped set up another touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds and put Detroit within 3 points of Seattle.
Even though the Lions weren’t able to pull off a win against Seattle in week two, there were still a lot of positives from this Lions team. Whether it was good runs by David Montgomery or a strong performance from Derrick Barnes on defense, there are still players to get excited about.
That includes Sam LaPorta.
After two games, LaPorta has been impressive and has been a key part of the Lions offense. As he continues to build rapport with Jared Goff, I think we’ll see even more strong performances from the rookie tight end.