Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa | NFL Draft Scouting Report

The next in a long line of Iowa TE prospects, can Sam LaPorta use his 2023 NFL Draft scouting report as the driving force in an early-round ascent?

Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa | NFL Draft Scouting Report

If there’s any TE candidate in the 2023 NFL Draft to go off the board earlier or produce at a higher clip than expected in the NFL, it’s Iowa’s Sam LaPorta. Taking the torch as the Hawkeyes’ next professional product at tight end, what does LaPorta bring to the table as a prospect?

Sam LaPorta NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Tight End
  • School: Iowa
  • Current Year: Senior
  • Height/Weight: 6’3 1/4″, 245 pounds
  • Length: 32 1/8″
  • Hand: 10 1/4″

It’s well-documented that Iowa is a tight end factory — and perhaps the most prolific one there is. T.J. Hockenson, George Kittle, and Noah Fant are just a few professional tight ends to hail from the Hawkeyes ranks. And soon, LaPorta will join them at the NFL level.

Professional players are ultimately a cut above. And for a long time, that’s what LaPorta has been. At Highland High School in Illinois, LaPorta was a three-year captain and a two-way star at wide receiver and defensive back. Across his junior and senior seasons, he had 135 catches for 2,844 yards and 39 touchdowns, along with 14 interceptions on the defensive side.

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LaPorta’s high school career was one for the Illinois history books. But upon arriving at Iowa, the 6’3″ talent quickly began the transition to tight end. Within two years, he was the Hawkeyes’ top receiving threat.

Across 2021 and 2022, LaPorta hauled in 106 catches for 1,271 yards and four touchdowns. Despite the highly-publicized struggles of the Iowa passing attack, LaPorta remained steady. It’s a reflection of what he shows on film and what he can provide for NFL teams.

Sam LaPorta Scouting Report

LaPorta’s environment hasn’t always been perfect, but the Iowa TE never struggled to produce in spite of that. Does LaPorta have the traits to potentially expand on his collegiate production at the NFL level?

LaPorta’s Positives

The Iowa football program knows what to look for when recruiting tight ends, and LaPorta most certainly fits the bill. At 6’3″, 245 pounds, he has a solid frame with decent height and weight and passable corresponding length.

LaPorta doesn’t have an elite size profile, but he does have elite testing athleticism. He earned a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.02 at the NFL Combine. Numbers that contributed to that score included a 4.59 40-yard dash with a 98th percentile 1.55 10-yard split, a 4.25 shuttle time, a 6.91 three-cone, a 35″ vertical jump, and a 10’3″ broad.

LaPorta doesn’t always play to that elite raw athletic capacity on tape, but athleticism is a definite strength for him on the field. The Iowa TE flashes great vertical explosive capacity and has shown he can gear up with little strain upfield. Meanwhile, in space, LaPorta shows off solid long-strider speed — enough to expand seams when he enters them.

For his size, LaPorta also brings great overall agility. He has the agility and fluidity to redirect on quick out routes, and flashes impressive foot speed and twitch for his size. LaPorta can levy single cuts and adjust his attack paths with urgency, and while his foot speed can be inconsistent, he has the capacity to speed up his strides when he needs to.

One of LaPorta’s strongest traits happens to be a staple at TE: Catching instincts. At the base level, LaPorta has shown he can gather passes in stride with his hands while turning upfield for run-after-catch yards. He’s also able to lower himself to corral stalling passes while preparing for RAC, and he converts on diving opportunities, protecting the ball with his hands and frame.

Going further, LaPorta can extend beyond his frame in stride to secure passes while managing his feet at the boundary, and he has good ball-tracking ability over his shoulder downfield and up the seam. The Iowa TE has shown to secure passes while taking on hits from downhill defenders. And overall, he displays solid hand-eye coordination and timing at the catch point.

Though Iowa’s offense didn’t always showcase it, LaPorta brings solid separation ability to the fold as well. He has enough smooth athleticism to suggest greater unearthed potential and is able to sustain acceleration through route breaks and cut fairly tight angles with curvilinear acceleration.

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Additionally, LaPorta has shown that he can use a split release at the line and a dead leg move at stems, actively employing stride variations.

LaPorta has decent stopping ability on comebacks. On top of that, he’s shown to press upfield into stems and eat up cushion, effectively playing space. LaPorta can also be deliberate with head fakes, keeping his eyes up front before snapping outside. He has solid zone awareness attacking the intermediate range.

LaPorta flashes the ability to manipulate DB positioning with attack angles, feigning outside before surging up seams. Taking it a step further, he’s shown to use targeted jabs at the stem to pry past defenders and gain additional separation — using his size as an advantage. Through all this, LaPorta has put on display a fairly vast route tree for his age, even in Iowa’s limited passing offense.

After the catch, LaPorta is extremely adept at resetting his feet and rolling his hips through contact to press forward. He proactively uses stiff arms after the catch to stymy tackle attempts and stay on his feet. Additionally, LaPorta steps through arm tackles and sustains leg churn for additional yardage. He consistently finishes forward as a ball carrier.

Overall, with his burst, smooth agility, frame density, and contact balance, LaPorta is one of the best RAC weapons in the 2023 NFL Draft class at TE. And his instincts to quickly redirect to the RAC phase after catching in the open field only serve to maximize his appeal in that phase.

While LaPorta lacks elite size and strength as a blocker, he provides value in that phase as well. Fundamentally, LaPorta can align his hips, square up defenders, widen his base, and acquire leverage to shoulder contact.

He’s willing to absorb contact and encumber opponents, but he’s not passive. LaPorta can chip defenders, employ combative hands, and uses his understanding of angles to seal off backside and pursuit defenders.

Overall, LaPorta is a bend-don’t-break blocker who occasionally loses control with his lacking strength, but he consistently fulfills his assignments and brings solid effort. He’s also versatile with his alignments. He can function as a lead blocker, and with his athleticism, he can block on the move and work in space as well.

LaPorta’s Areas for Improvement

LaPorta’s profile is one that lacks glaring weaknesses. But it also lacks overwhelming strengths. A well-rounded, solid, but unspectacular player, LaPorta’s diluted ceiling may weigh him down a bit in a talented TE class.

While LaPorta passes the requisite athletic threshold and tested extremely well, he lacks consistently elite explosiveness out of transitions and sometimes trudges out of breaks. He also lacks a true top gear with his long speed and won’t be able to stack defensive backs downfield.

In short ranges, LaPorta can sometimes be a bit lumbered and needs to gather himself on cuts. He also struggles at times to decelerate and enter lateral mode after accelerating off the snap.

At the very least, however, LaPorta’s athleticism and change-of-direction ability are relative strengths. On the flip side, his average size and play strength at TE serve as potential weaknesses at the NFL level. LaPorta doesn’t have great hand strength and can’t consistently work against prying defenders. Against more physical defenders, he can be disrupted and moved off his spot as a blocker.

Both as a receiver and as a blocker, LaPorta doesn’t always work through contact effectively — too easily losing his balance and coordination when faced with opposing physicality. Improving his play strength could help with this at the next level, but at 6’3″ with below-average length, his frame may be nearly filled out at this point.

As a route runner, LaPorta sometimes drifts upfield after sharp route breaks, allowing defensive backs to recover positioning more quickly. He also doesn’t quite have the necessary hip sink and flexibility to cut sharp 90-degree angles inside. To that end, he sometimes drifts through breaks on digs, playing tall and allowing DBs to recover ground.

As mentioned earlier, LaPorta doesn’t have the strength to sustain blocks consistently against defensive ends. He can get knocked off-balance fairly easily by power exertions, allowing lanes off the snap, and occasionally overshoots blocking angles in space, sometimes lurching and grabbing in response.

Lastly, while LaPorta’s catching instincts are a strong point, he’s not quite elite here, either. LaPorta sometimes lets the ball into his frame and resorts to body catching, which can result in drops. And at times, he can be a bit late to get his hands up and corral passes at the catch point.

Current Draft Projection for Iowa TE Sam LaPorta

LaPorta grades just outside my top 100 in the 2023 NFL Draft, worthy of mid-to-late Day 2 or priority Day 3 consideration. In the 2023 tight end class, he’s one of the better value options on the board. While he’s elite in a few areas, he has a profile for which projecting success is fairly easy.

The biggest question mark for LaPorta at the next level will be his lacking size, strength, and catch radius. He’s below average in all of these areas, and it shows up at times when he’s attempting to work through physicality. That said, LaPorta’s not a liability with his size, and his game is fairly well-rounded outside of that.

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As an athlete, LaPorta is smooth and nuanced enough to separate in the short and intermediate ranges. He brings natural speed and burst, and when he has space to work with, he’s a very reliable receiver with effortless instincts and stellar run-after-catch ability in the open field.

LaPorta has the receiving ability of a strong TE2, and his versatility and assignment-sound nature as a blocker only make him more appealing to coaches. Ideally, in a scheme where he can work underneath as a separator and be schemed touches in the short range, he can be a quality complementary threat with above-average starting upside.