The good: The tight end position has been a huge weapon in Detroit's offense since Ben Johnson took over as offensive coordinator in 2022, and the addition of rookie Sam LaPorta this season made the position one of the league's best.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell played tight end in the NFL and Johnson coached the team's tight ends before being promoted. It goes without saying the two value the position more than most.
Detroit got the second most touchdowns in the NFL from the tight end position this past season (11), which was second to only Baltimore's 12. Detroit's 23 touchdowns from tight ends the last two seasons combined trails only Kansas City (24).
LaPorta had one of the best seasons for a rookie tight end in NFL history. His 86 receptions were the most by a rookie tight end in league history. He became the triple-crown holder among all-time Lions tight ends, setting the single-season franchise records for receptions (86), receiving yards (889) and receiving touchdowns (10).
One of the areas where LaPorta and Detroit's other tight ends – Brock Wright, James Mitchell and Anthony Firkser don't get enough credit is for the job they did in the run game. Johnson puts a lot on the tight ends' plate in the run game and a team doesn't finish top five in the league rushing the football without terrific blocking on the edges from the tight end position. It is one area where LaPorta will continue to develop even more.
View photos of the Detroit Lions tight ends from the 2023 NFL season.
The bad: Not a lot to muster up here.
LaPorta was the go-to guy at tight end this year and they didn't get a whole lot of production in the passing game from that room outside of him. Wright and Mitchell combined for 15 receptions for 119 yards and one Wright touchdown in the regular season. To be fair, that was on just 16 targets with Wright playing 44 percent of the snaps on offense and Mitchell just 15 percent.
It was too bad we didn't get to see Shane Zylstra this season after he was lost for the season in training camp with a knee injury. He had four touchdown catches in 2022. Wright and Mitchell also dealt with injuries this past season.
Key stat: When throwing LaPorta's way this season, Lions quarterback Jared Goff had a 110.0 passer rating with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
MVP: Sam LaPorta
LaPorta joined wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) as the only rookies in NFL history to produce a season with at least 85 receptions, 850 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions.
Among all NFL tight ends this season, LaPorta finished first in touchdown catches, fourth in receptions and fifth in receiving yards.
Free agents: Brock Wright (restricted), Shane Zylstra (exclusive rights), Anthony Firkser (unrestricted).
The Lions control Zylstra's rights and it seems logical he'd be back to compete for a reserve tight end role in 2024.
Wright is a terrific blocker in the run game and is more explosive of a receiver than he gets credit for. He's had a couple big catches over the last two seasons. His 29-yard reception against Tampa Bay in the Divisional Round of the playoffs set up a key third-quarter touchdown for the Lions.
Not a huge need here, especially if they bring Wright back, but Detroit could opt to bring in a veteran to compete for depth behind LaPorta.
Draft: After taking LaPorta in the second round of last year's NFL Draft, I don't expect GM Brad Holmes to spend considerable draft resources on the position. LaPorta is already one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
This isn't nearly as good of a tight end class as last year's historically deep group, but with Wright and Firkser headed toward free agency, maybe Detroit opts to add some depth later in the draft or in the undrafted free agent market.
Quotable: "Those players that we selected, those were our favorite players in the draft," Holmes said of last year's class. "I know it was a big thing about tight end. Yeah, I mean, I think it's been on record that Sam LaPorta was our number one tight end. No, he was one of our favorite players the entire draft. So, when you have that kind of conviction on players, you can sleep good."