On November 1, 2022, the Lions traded tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Vikings for a 2023 second-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick, while Minnesota got a 2023 fourth-round pick and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick along with their new tight end. As it turned out, Detroit was about to select another Iowa tight end in the 2023 draft — Sam LaPorta, who caught 58 passes on 90 targets last season for 648 yards and one touchdown. Not exactly stellar numbers, but this was done in an offense that ranked 123rd out of 131 FBS teams in points scored, and whose quarterbacks combined for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Iowa TE Sam LaPorta should be quite a bit better in the NFL because he’ll actually have a functional offense. pic.twitter.com/fzsjOiJEor
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) March 24, 2023
The Lions saw through what LaPorta was dealing with, and made him the latest Hawkeye tight end of renown, following in the footsteps of Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler, Noah Fant, George Kittle, and Hockenson himself.
“Yeah, LaPorta, really athletic guy,” Lions EVP and general manager Brad Holes said. “He can play a lot of different positions, he can align in a lot of different spots. He can do it in-line. I really like his urgency and willingness in the run game. For the most part, he’s active with his hands, and he’s not the biggest guy. He’s not a 6-foot-5’, 250-pound guy, but he plays a lot bigger in-line than what you think. What really stands out is when he detaches from the core and the work that he can do on the perimeter, and he can beat a DB and he can catch contested and he can win a slant. He’s got very good ball skills.
“I know that there’s some stats on drops and all that stuff, but I’m not concerned about his hands. He’s got really impressive ball skills – he’s just a really good athlete. He can bend, he can change directions, and again, I just like the way he plays football, man. He’s just got a gritty feel about him. Although he’s athletic and he can do all that stuff in the pass game and he can be a mismatch and all that stuff, but he still has a gritty finishing style, especially with the ball in his hands. He’s got run-after-the-catch (ability), so I think he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be a good addition. He’s going to be able to do a lot of good things. This was a good tight end class, it really was this year. But he just really stood out…