Lions’ Sam LaPorta is on Historic Pace for Rookie Tight Ends

Detroit Lions tight end Sam LaPorta (87) celebrates his touchdown with teammates during first-half action at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, Oct, 8, 2023.
Detroit Lions tight end Sam LaPorta (87) celebrates his touchdown with teammates during first-half action at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, Oct, 8, 2023. /

Lions fans were mocked when the team traded TJ Hockenson to Minnesota last season, but replacing him with Sam LaPorta has been an obvious win five games into the 2023 season.

LaPorta hasn’t just been a good replacement, though. He’s currently on pace to have one of the best rookie seasons for a tight end in NFL history.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate just how good LaPorta has been, and also take a look at how his hot start compares to some of the best tight ends we’ve ever seen.

Comparing LaPorta’s Hot Start to the Best TEs of All-Time

LaPorta’s 25 receptions through his first five games are the third-most in NFL history, behind Keith Jackson’s 29 receptions with the Eagles in 1988 and Jordan Reed’s 26 receptions for Washington in 2013.

That’s already pretty good company to be in this early, but it gets even better when you look at how some of the best tight ends in the NFL started their careers.

  • Tony Gonzalez rookie season (1997)

33 receptions for 368 yards, 2 TDs

First five games: 10 receptions for 140 yards, TD

  • Antonio Gates rookie season (2003)

24 receptions for 389 yards, 2 TDs

First five games: 9 receptions for 117 yards, TD

  • Rob Gronkowski rookie season (2010)

42 receptions for 546 yards, 10 TDs

First five games: 8 receptions for 92 yards, 3 TDs

  • Travis Kelce rookie season (2014*)

67 receptions for 862 yards, 5 TDs

First five games: 20 receptions for 274 yards, 3 TDs

*Kelce played just one game in 2013, so that doesn’t count for this exercise

  • George Kittle rookie season (2017)

43 receptions for 515 yards, 2 TDs

First five games: 17 receptions for 166 yards, TD

  • Sam LaPorta rookie season (2023)

25 receptions for 289 yards, 3 TDs

Notice anything?

LaPorta’s statline stands out as the best of the bunch in nearly every category.

It’s not far-fetched for LaPorta to have the best rookie season of all of the tight ends listed above. Currently, he’s on pace to finish with 85 receptions for 983 yards and 10 touchdowns.

But would that be the best rookie season for a tight end ever?

Best Rookie TE Seasons in NFL History

It’s almost cheating to compare LaPorta’s hot start to other great tight ends, considering every player’s situation and growth is different.

However, his season-long pace also stacks up with the best seasons by rookie tight ends in NFL history, too.

  • Mike Ditka rookie season (1961)

56 receptions for 1,076 yards, 12 TDs

  • Keith Jackson rookie season (1988)

81 receptions for 869 yards, 6 TDs

  • Jeremy Shockey rookie season (2002)

74 receptions for 894 yards, 2 TDs

  • Kyle Pitts rookie season (2021)

68 receptions for 1,026 yards, 1 TD

LaPorta is already on track to record more yards than Jackson and Shockey and more touchdowns than everyone but Ditka.

Detroit’s favorite new player might have an uphill climb if he wants to dethrone the Bears legend as the best rookie TE, but if we’ve learned anything yet, it’s not to count out LaPorta from surpassing expectations.

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