James Mitchell

Lions TE Sam LaPorta To Play In Wild-Card Round

JANUARY 14: Per Rapoport and NFL Network colleague Tom Pelissero, LaPorta now has more than an outside shot to play in tonight’s wild-card contest against the Rams. The duo report that while LaPorta was limited in practice and will likely require a brace on his leg, he is “trending in the right direction to play.”

JANUARY 8: When speaking about the LaPorta injury on Monday, Campbell said the standout rookie has “an outside shot” to play against the Rams in the wild-card round (h/t Justin Rodgers of the Detroit News). He added that the Lions will not add a tight end during the week, so LaPorta can be expected to miss only the coming game at the most.

JANUARY 7: Sam LaPorta is putting a bow on what will go down as one of the greatest rookie seasons for a tight end of all time. He hoped to put up 35 receiving yards today in order to pass Jeremy Shockey for the third-most receiving yards for a rookie tight end in NFL history, but he ultimately fell six yards short after suffering a hyperextended knee and a bone bruise in the Lions’ season finale, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. According to his head coach, Dan Campbell, while the injury is not as bad as it could’ve been, he’s likely to miss some time.

LaPorta has been a pivotal part of the Lions’ first playoff season in seven years. While running backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs held down the running game, LaPorta paired up with wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Josh Reynolds to provide quarterback Jared Goff with a formidable receiving trio. LaPorta finished the year second on the team in receptions and receiving yards while matching St. Brown on the year with 10 receiving touchdowns.

If Campbell is accurate and LaPorta is forced to miss time in the playoffs, Detroit is going to have trouble replacing the production lost during LaPorta’s absence. Third-year tight end Brock Wright is the team’s second-leading receiving tight end, and he only has 91 yards on the year. Last year, when Wright started 10 games after the departure of T.J. Hockenson, Wright recorded only 18 receptions for 216 yards, though he did prove to be formidable in the red zone with four touchdowns.

The only other tight end to receive even a target for the Lions this season was second-year tight end James Mitchell, who caught his only two targets for 28 yards in the last two weeks. Wright and Mitchell will be asked to step up when the Rams come to town next week for Super Wildcard Weekend. The Lions also hold veteran fullback/tight end Anthony Firkser on the practice squad.

Luckily, though, it sounds like LaPorta avoided the worst-case scenario, which could’ve seen him missing time all the way into next year. Instead, the Lions will hold out hope that LaPorta will be able to make a return sometime during the playoffs, on the off chance that Detroit can win their first playoff game since 1992.

Lions Place CB Jerry Jacobs, TE James Mitchell On IR

The Lions are the only team today with transactions that aren’t just standard gameday practice squad elevations. In addition to the normal gameday transactions, Detroit also placed starting cornerback Jerry Jacobs and backup tight end James Mitchell on injured reserve before their first home playoff game in 30 years.

Jacobs is certainly the bigger loss of the two. The third-year cornerback out of Arkansas has continued to extend his role in each year, starting 12 games on the Lions’ defense this year. In 15 games this season, Jacobs is tied for second on the team for interceptions (3) and tied for third on the team for passes defensed (8). Jacobs had started the first 12 games he had appeared in this year but was forced to take a bit of a back seat in recent weeks.

With Jacobs in a limited role the past few weeks, Kindle Vildor has been starting opposite usual starter Cameron Sutton, with big contributions coming from second-round rookie Brian Branch and Khalil Dorsey. That plan is expected to continue as Jacobs becomes officially unavailable, though Sutton and Branch are dealing with a few injury issues themselves.

Mitchell was expected to play a bigger role in the offense if starter Sam LaPorta was unable to play after last week’s injury. Luckily, LaPorta seems to have avoided disaster and currently only holds a questionable status heading into tomorrow, so there’s a good chance he will be good to go, lessening the impact of Mitchell’s absence. Brock Wright will continue performing as TE2.

After losing a cornerback and tight end to IR, the Lions promoted a cornerback and tight end from the practice squad, signing Anthony Firkser and Chase Lucas to the active roster. Firkser and Lucas will be able to provide some depth at tight end and cornerback, respectively, as injuries threaten to impact Detroit’s postseason aspirations.

Lastly, the Lions announced their standard gameday practice squad elevations for tomorrow, as well. Joining Firkser and Lucas will be defensive lineman Tyson Alualu and fullback Jason Cabinda.

Lions TE Sam LaPorta To Have Significant Role In 2023

Fantasy football managers are well aware that rookie tight ends often face a steep learning curve, and that expectations for those players should generally be tempered. But Lions TE Sam LaPorta, a second-round pick in this year’s draft, has a real chance to make significant contributions to Detroit’s offense in his first professional season.

According to Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website, LaPorta was one of the Lions’ most impressive players during OTAs and minicamp. TE coach Steve Heiden was especially pleased with LaPorta’s instincts and feel for the game, traits that were honed during his time in a pro-style Iowa offense that gives tight ends a great deal of responsibility. In addition to those intangibles, LaPorta also offers prototypical size (6-4, 249) and athleticism and displayed considerable receiving and YAC ability at the collegiate level.

As such, Twentyman expects LaPorta to have a major role right out of the gate. He will be aided in that regard by a depth chart that, in the wake of the trade that sent T.J. Hockenson to the Vikings at last year’s deadline, is light on proven talent.

After the trade, James Mitchell, Brock Wright, and Shane Zylstra saw expanded playing time, and while those players combined for nine touchdown grabs following Hockenson’s departure, none of them offer LaPorta’s upside. Wright and Zylstra are both former UDFAs, and Mitchell was a fifth-round pick in the 2022 draft.

Nonetheless, Heiden has (predictably) spoken highly of all of his charges, and given that offensive coordinator Ben Johnson‘s scheme relies heavily on tight ends, Twentyman believes there is a good chance that Detroit’s Week 1 roster will include four TEs, just as it did in 2022. LaPorta’s ability to line up out wide will, in addition to increasing his own snap share, make it even more likely that the team keeps four tight ends. That is especially true since WR Jameson Williamssix-game suspension creates an immediate need for outside-the-numbers talent that LaPorta can fill, thereby opening up more in-line opportunities for the players below him in the pecking order.

Of the above-mentioned players, Twentyman believes that Zylstra’s job security is the most tenuous, while LaPorta, Mitchell, and Wright appear to be roster locks. The Lions’ TE allotment could also be influenced by the presence of Jason Cabinda, who can play both fullback and tight end.

Trade Deadline Notes: Burns, R. Smith, 49ers

The trade deadline passed on Tuesday, but reports of near-deals and trade talks featuring high-profile players continue to trickle in. Though the NFL trade deadline may never produce the anticipation that the MLB deadline seems to generate, NFL front offices are increasingly amenable to making deals, and this year’s deadline day brought with it 10 trades and 12 players changing teams, both league records. As Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets, that type of activity is wildly popular among fans and therefore good for business, and Yates’ ESPN colleague, Adam Schefter, says multiple clubs have reached out to the league office this week to discuss the possibility of moving future deadlines to later dates.

In 2012, the league pushed the deadline back two weeks, from the Tuesday after Week 6 to the Tuesday after Week 8. Another move could see the deadline moved to sometime after Week 10 or Week 12, which would presumably produce even more trades. The idea is that, the later the deadline, the more clarity teams will have with respect to their status as a playoff contender, which will lead to more trade activity. Schefter hears that the issue will be raised at the general manager committee meetings later this month.

Now for more fallout and other notes from this year’s deadline extravaganza:

  • Teams were perhaps most interested in improving their receiving talent at the deadline, as players like Chase ClaypoolCalvin RidleyKadarius Toney, and T.J. Hockenson changed hands on or before deadline day, and big names like Brandin Cooks, Jerry Jeudy, DeAndre Hopkins, and D.J. Moore generated conversations as well. According to Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, the aggression on that front was inspired at least in part by a weak 2023 class of free agent receivers headlined by the likes of Jakobi Meyers, Deonte Harty, Nelson Agholor, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, and JuJu Smith-Schuster. On a related note, Joel Corry of CBS Sports believes that, if the Saints choose to move on from Michael Thomas this offseason, they may find a number of suitors, despite Thomas’ recent injury woes (Twitter link).
  • It was indeed the Rams who were willing to trade two first-round picks to the Panthers in exchange for DE Brian Burns, as Jones writes in a separate piece. Confirming prior reports, Jones says Los Angeles offered its 2024 and 2025 first-round selections — the team is without a 2023 first-round pick to due to last year’s Matthew Stafford trade — and he adds that the club also included a 2023 second-round choice in its final proposal. Carolina gave serious consideration to the offer, but it ultimately elected to hold onto Burns, which will increase the player’s leverage in offseason extension talks. Per Jones, Burns is likely to land a deal that far exceeds the $110MM pact that the Dolphins recently authorized for their own deadline acquisition, Bradley Chubb.
  • Speaking of the Panthers, we learned earlier today that the club also turned down a first-round pick for Moore. The Panthers’ reticence to trade its young talent (aside from Christian McCaffrey, of course) was on full display at the deadline, and while the decisions to retain Moore and Burns were certainly defensible, every executive with whom Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post spoke was shocked that the club did not pull the trigger on Burns. “I can’t believe they turned [the Rams’ offer] down. Now they almost have to pay him whatever he wants because everyone knows they turned down two [first-round picks] for him,” one GM said. Apparently, cornerback Donte Jackson also drew some trade interest, though another GM said the Panthers were asking too much for him as well.
  • The 49ersacquisition of McCaffrey will necessitate some “bean-counting creativity” from GM John Lynch this offseason, as Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle opines. The team’s impending cap crunch, intensified by McCaffrey’s $12MM cap hit for 2023, will make it more difficult for the club to retain QB Jimmy Garoppolo — though that may not have been in the cards anyway — and RT Mike McGlinchey.
  • Bears head coach Matt Eberflus acknowledged that one of the reasons his team traded linebacker Roquan Smith is because of Smith’s lack of ball production relative to his peers, particularly the peers who have contracts that Smith wants to top, as Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic writes (subscription required). Compared to fellow 2018 draftee and three-time First Team All-Pro Shaquille Leonard, for instance, Smith has five fewer interceptions (seven), 16 fewer forced fumbles (one), and six fewer fumble recoveries (one) over the course of his career.
  • The Lionstrade of Hockenson will naturally create more playing time for second-year pro Brock Wright — who is expected to step into the starting TE role — and fifth-round rookie James Mitchell, as Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website notes. Mitchell, who is still strengthening and rehabbing the torn ACL he suffered as a collegian at Virginia Tech in 2021, has played just 21 offensive snaps this season but offers big-play upside at the tight end position.

NFC North Notes: Smith, Lions, Vikings

A strange situation may be developing in Chicago. Roquan Smith made his trade request public earlier this week, and the standout linebacker is staging a hold-in effort at Bears camp. Smith does not have an agent, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports a person claiming to represent the fifth-year defender has been contacting teams to gauge trade interest. The person calling teams is not an NFLPA-certified agent, per Florio, and the Bears have not given Smith permission to seek a trade. The team still wants to extend the two-time second-team All-Pro, even though Smith does not have much hope for salvaging this situation. A team that negotiated with this unknown Smith representative would face tampering charges. While teams are interested in the former top-10 pick, Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus does not expect a first-round pick to be offered — if it reaches the point the Bears are fielding offers.

Here is the latest from the rest of the NFC North:

  • The Lions signed veteran wide receiver Devin Funchess and converted him to tight end, a position where he spent some time while a Michigan freshman in 2012. Funchess is not a lock to make the Lions’ roster, and Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes the team may only keep three tight ends. In addition to T.J. Hockenson, Dan Campbell plans to a keep a blocking tight end and an all-purpose player. Funchess would obviously be competing for the latter spot, with Birkett adding Shane Zylstra and fifth-round pick James Mitchell are in that group as well. Garrett Griffin and Brock Wright are vying for the blocking gig. Funchess would still have practice squad eligibility, and teams can still keep 16 players on their taxi squads.
  • Detroit also brought back Jarrad Davis this offseason, but the former first-round pick is not a lock to make the team. Davis has worked with the second- and third-team defenses in training camp, per Birkett, who adds the ex-Florida standout might need to show he can be a productive special teams player to make the team. Davis logged a career-high 46% special teams snap rate with the Jets last season. The Lions are not particularly deep at linebacker, but this regime did not draft Davis, who was brought in during Jim Caldwell‘s final season under GM Bob Quinn. Davis, 27, started 45 games for the Lions from 2017-20.
  • Despite the Vikings selecting Kellen Mond in last year’s third round, they brought back Sean Mannion for another potential run as Kirk Cousins‘ backup. The two have split time behind Cousins at training camp, per the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson. They are listed as co-backups on Minnesota’s depth chart, with Mond — after a year of seasoning — seemingly having a better chance to move into the QB2 role. Under Mike Zimmer, Mond worked only with the Vikings’ third-team offense. The quarterback said earlier this offseason he played at less than full strength throughout his rookie year due to contracting COVID-19 during camp.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/12/22

Thursday has featured several rookie deals finalized. Here are the mid- and late-round draftees to sign their four-year contracts today:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Buffalo Bills

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

  • WR Montrell Washington (fifth round, Samford)

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • RB Snoop Conner (fifth round, Ole Miss)
  • CB Gregory Junior (sixth round, Ouachita Baptist)
  • CB Montaric Brown (seventh round, Arkansas)

Las Vegas Raiders

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans