The Detroit Lions believe in “the Iowa edge,” selecting two Hawkeyes with their first three picks. Talk show host Pat McAfee tweeted out “The Detroit Liowans” following the Lions selection of tight end Sam LaPorta 34th overall, which followed their pick of linebacker Jack Campbell 18th overall. And now we even have a “Detroit Liowans” t-shirt courtesy of RAYGUN.
It’s ultimately quite rare to see a team use two premium selections on players from the same college — especially one that doesn’t have a half dozen prospects graded as first round talents like Georgia, Ohio State or Alabama. But for the first time since 2017 (San Francisco selected C.J. Beathard in the 3rd round and George Kittle in the 5th), an NFL team picked two Hawkeyes in the same draft.
“You know what kind of football they play at Iowa and what they’re playing against.” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said.
LaPorta is the Hawkeyes all-time receptions leader among tight ends. Campbell is Iowa’s 13th unanimous all-american, and arguably the greatest Iowa linebacker of all time.
The Lions are a team coming off a 9-8 season, and won eight of their final ten regular season games. A historically losing franchise has finally built real momentum — and wanted to acquire pieces who can contribute right away. In the draft that meant adding players who can learn quickly and start right away.
Typically NFL tight ends don’t produce immediately. Even Kyle Pitts, the fourth overall pick in 2021, only caught one touchdown pass his rookie campaign with the Falcons. But to coach Campbell, LaPorta is an exception to the norm.
“We think he can handle a lot,” Dan Campbell said. “He’s got versatility, physically and he can do a little bit of everything. But mentally — he’s pretty sharp for a rookie.”
“He’s already gone the wrong way a couple of times — it’s going to happen. But we think he’ll be able to pick this up pretty quick. We’re pretty hopeful this kid can come on sooner than later.”
Sam admitted he’s already messed up some of the small details in rookie minicamp. But the reality is he’s going to be a contributor on a team reverberating with hype and excitement — even earning the honor of playing on the first Thursday night of the football season in Kansas City.
“The hair stood up on the back of my neck when I found out we were going to arrowhead to open up the season,” LaPorta said. “I never really thought I’d be in this situation but here I am.”
LaPorta joins a thin tight end room that has just 600 career receiving yards combined. He’s going to play — as is his former roommate Jack Campbell. According to reports, LaPorta beat Campbell during a special teams coverage drill — then pointed at him after the rep.
“It’s definitely fun going against him. I mean he gets me and I get him every once in a while and that’s dating back to Iowa the last four years,” LaPorta joked. “You win some, you lose some.”
If Lions fans want to know anything about Jack Campbell, it’s his unrelenting competitive drive that elicited a 30-second response when a reporter asked him about it. He turned it into a borderline motivational speech.
“Competition brings out the best of both people. Hats off to him, he’s a hell of a player,” Campbell said. “All you can do is keep going — every rep, give it your all. Focus on being fundamentally sound. Obviously there is something better I could’ve done, but it was a hell of a play by him. In a real game I’m getting back into the huddle and getting ready for the next play. There’s no sulking about anything.”
“He gets fired up for small competitive things like card games.” LaPorta said.
But in reality, Jack and Sam are in this thing together. A familiar face for one another as they try and navigate their first steps in the NFL — and represent their alma maters at the next level.
“It’s super fun to be able to have this experience with him,” Campbell said. “He’s a chill guy. Football is the most important thing to him and he’s going to do it at the highest level. We take pride in what we come from. The coaching staff at Iowa takes pride in once we step foot on the field we’re the byproduct of them — representing them in a good light.”
“It’s just like backyard football — You’re just going against your buddy,” LaPorta added. “You’re competing and that’s what we all love. It’s so fun and it’s so fun to do it against Jack.”
While they’re on opposing sides of the practice field, Jack and Sam are on the same side — with a coach and organization that believe in their abilities. Dan Campbell thinks Jack Campbell is game one ready, which is why the team made him the first linebacker to be taken off the board.
“Jack was a guy we had rated very high — he was the highest rated player we had left on the board (at 18),” Dan Campbell said. “He is a big, long athlete. He can run, his change of direction is better than a lot of people realize. “
Dan thinks Jack will be able to match up with players in man-to-man coverage because of his body. He raved about the impression Jack made during pre-draft meetings, and the entire team was blown away with his football acumen.
“He has high expectations of me, but everything is earned,” Jack Campbell said. “I’m going to come into a room with a bunch of guys that are super hungry. I look forward to meeting them, learning from them. All I can do is prepare to the best of my ability.”
“Everyone’s the same. You come out here every single day and do things the right way.”
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