Training camp is only a little more than a week old for the Detroit Lions, but injuries are beginning to mount. Tight end Shane Zylstra is the latest Lions victim to the injury bug.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on July 31 that Zylstra “is believed to have suffered a serious and significant knee injury.”
Rapoport tweeted that the tight end will undergo more tests, but that “there isn’t a lot of optimism” in the Lions organization that he will play during the 2023 season.
Lions TE Shane Zylstra Suffers Major Knee Injury
The third-year tight end sustained his knee injury at practice on July 31. The Detroit News’ Justin Rogers reported that Zylstra left the field after taking a low hit to his right leg.
Rogers didn’t call the hit from cornerback Khalil Dorsey illegal, but he did tweet that it was “definitely not the kind” of hit “you want to deliver against a teammate in practice.”
After not making the team, he joined the Lions practice squad in September 2021. Ironically, he made his NFL debut against the Vikings in Week 5 of 2021, playing 12 snaps on special teams.
Zylstra dressed for four games that season. He lined up for a season-high 40 offensive snaps during Week 14 against the Denver Broncos.
Last season, Zylstra played 14 games. He dressed for the final 10 contests of the season.
Zylstra played wide receiver at Minnesota State during his college football career. He led his team with 81 receptions, 1,676 yards and 18 touchdowns during his senior season.
After college, he moved to tight end to increase his chances at an NFL career.
In 17 career NFL games, Zylstra has posted 14 receptions, 94 yards and 4 touchdowns on 22 targets.
Lions’ Options to Replace Zylstra at TE
Losing Zylstra for potentially the entire season is a significant blow. Of the tight ends on Detroit’s roster, Zylstra is the oldest and one of the more experienced.
But the good news is the Lions do have three other young, capable tight ends.
While 24-year-old Brock Wright was an undrafted free agent a year after Zylstra in 2021, he’s played in more games and made a bigger offensive impact than Zylstra. Wright has posted 30 receptions, 333 yards and 6 touchdowns in 27 career NFL games.
Last year, the Lions drafted tight end James Mitchell in the fifth round. The 23-year-old recorded 11 receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown as a rookie during 2022.
The Lions, though, drafted another tight end this past spring in Sam LaPorta. The second-round pick played college football at Iowa, which is known as one of the top NFL tight end producers in the country.
LaPorta has a significant chance to start as a rookie this fall.
Losing Zylstra for what appears likely to be the entire 2023 season is obviously not ideal. But general manager Brad Holmes supplied the team with solid tight end depth to combat such an injury.
Zylstra’s injury news came less than 24 hours after the Lions placed right tackle Penei Sewell in the concussion protocol. The team also received an injury scare during the first week of training camp when cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson needed a cart to leave the field during practice on July 24.