The Detroit Lions used the 2023 first round draft pick that they acquired in the Matthew Stafford trade to move down and acquire additional capital from the Arizona Cardinals, then turned around and selected Jahmyr Gibbs in the first and tight end Sam LaPorta at the top of the second. Despite a scary-looking injury in the season finale against the Minnesota Vikings, LaPorta returned to practice on Thursday and told reporters that he’s “optimistic” about being able to return to face the L.A. Rams in Sunday night’s wild card game in Detroit.
“It’s starting to feel better day by day,” LaPorta said. “See where it takes me tomorrow. Really just taking it a day at a time. When it first happened, it didn’t feel great. I feel like I’ve started to bounce back quickly, so we’ll see.”
If he plays, LaPorta said he expects to play with a knee brace.
But he is hopeful of playing in the wild-card game against the Rams.
“Yeah, I’m optimistic. We’ll see,” LaPorta said.
The wild card game figures to be a showcase of outstanding rookies from the 2023 draft, on both teams.
LaPorta, the 34th overall pick out of Iowa, which is Tight End University right now, had a historic season with the Lions. He caught 86 passes for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns, one of the best rookie campaigns by a tight end in NFL history. A little more than a month ago, LaPorta caught nine passes for 140 yards on nine targets against the New Orleans Saints. He presents a brutally difficult matchup for L.A.’s defense if he is able to start.
He wasn’t the only Lions rookie standout, as former Rams front office exec Brad Holmes is consistently hitting dingers in the draft: Gibbs had 945 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also caught 52 passes for 316 yards.
But Les Snead proved that he could draft well without Holmes, selecting Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Puka Nacua in the fifth and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Kobie Turner in the third. The Rams also picked starting left guard Steve Avila, starting pass rusher Byron Young, and fifth round tight end Davis Allen is emerging recently as a valuable backup to Tyler Higbee.
The Rams had DNPs for non-resting purposes with Jordan Fuller (ankle), Troy Reeder (knee), and Joe Noteboom (foot) on Wednesday. Kevin Dotson and Higbee were limited.