The success rate in the NFL draft is low, so it's not particularly shocking to see teams passing on good players. Having said that, the Jacksonville Jaguars should be kicking themselves for passing on tight end Sam LaPorta in the 2023 NFL Draft. LaPorta, who went to the Detroit Lions at No. 34, had an amazing rookie campaign. Meanwhile, the tight end the Jags picked, Brenton Strange, was underwhelming in his first NFL season.
Tight end was a need for the Jaguars in the draft. Although they ensured Evan Engram would return by using the franchise tag, they had let Dan Arnold and Chris Manhertz in free agency. Their only other tight end under contract besides Engram was Luke Farrell, so replenishing the position was necessary.
The Jags drafted Anton Harrison at No. 27, but even with Dalton Kincaid off the board at No. 25, the team's brass still had a myriad of options at tight end, including Michael Mayer, Luke Musgrave, Darnell Washington, and LaPorta.
Early in the draft process, LaPorta was projected to go in Round 3, but he also got second-round grades. That's why it wasn't necessarily surprising that he was the second tight end taken. One pick later, the Las Vegas Raiders went with Meyer at No. 35. With the top three tight ends gone, the Jaguars waited until pick 61st to select Strange. At the time, they praised his ability to create plays after the catch, noting that he was a culture fit.
How did Brenton Strange season go?
Every pick deserves the benefit of the doubt. The Jaguars surely saw something in Strange that made them feel comfortable waiting for him to fall to them. However, the former Penn State Nittany Lion wasn't much of a factor in his rookie campaign. He wasn't going to get much playing time behind Evan Engram but it's fair to say that the Jags didn't expect him to have such a little impact in 2023.
Strange finished the year with five catches in five receptions for 35 yards with one touchdown. He played 26.33 percent of the team's snaps on offense. That said, he missed three games with a foot injury, so his playing time might've been higher. Meanwhile, fellow tight end Luke Farrell appeared on 35.25 percent of the offensive snaps, hauling in 13 receptions for 15 yards with no touchdowns.
Granted, some players need more time than others to make the transition to the NFL and hit their stride. Still, you probably expect more than five receptions from your second-round pick. The Detroit Lions surely got way better production from their own second-round pick.
What did the Jaguars miss when they passed on Sam LaPorta?
LaPorta started his NFL with a bang, reeling in 86 receptions for 866 yards with 10 touchdowns. He was tied with Amon-Ra St. Brown for the most touchdown receptions in Detriot and ranked second in both catches and receiving yards. He suffered a hyperextended knee injury in the finale but it's not believed to be serious.
While it's true that he was the Lions' No. 1 tight end, unlike Strange in Jacksonville, he got a big workload because he delivered every time his number was called. It's fair to assume that if Strange had shown more in practice, he might've gotten more playing time but he didn't.
You could argue that the Jags were in no position to draft LaPorta since they picked Harrison at No. 27 and he was gone by the time they were on the clock with the 61st selection. However, nothing stopped them from trading down. They had a wide array of picks to use as trade ammo. They could've used a few to be in a position to take LaPorta or even Meyer.
The year before, they moved back into the first round to select Devin Lloyd after drafting Travon Walker. They could've pulled off a similar move in 2023. Sure, it would've been more expensive since they would've needed to move up nearly 30 spots. Still, it would've been worth it if they had gotten LaPorta's production.
Maybe Brenton Strange will improve down the road. Perhaps he'll be the player the Jacksonville Jaguars expected. But for the time being, Sam LaPorta is the much better tight end.