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?

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″

Iowa has a reputation for producing exceptional tight ends, with many considering it to be the best in the business. Well-known players such as T.J. Hockenson, George Kittle, and Noah Fant have all emerged from the Hawkeyes’ program, and now LaPorta is poised to follow in their footsteps as he begins his career with the Detroit Lions.

Professional players are ultimately a cut above. And for a long time, that’s what LaPorta has been. LaPorta was a three-year captain at Highland High School in Illinois 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.

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

Between 2021 and 2022, LaPorta was able to catch 106 passes, amassing a total of 1,271 yards and four touchdowns. Despite the Iowa passing attack’s widely publicized struggles, LaPorta’s performance remained consistently strong. This is a testament to his skills, as shown on film, and indicates the value he can bring to Detroit.

Sam LaPorta Scouting Report

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

LaPorta’s Positives

The Iowa football program knows what to look for when recruiting tight ends, and LaPorta fits the bill. At 6’3″, 245 pounds, he has a solid frame with decent height, 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 may not always demonstrate his elite raw athletic capacity on film, but his athleticism is definitely a strength on the field. As a tight end for Iowa, LaPorta possesses impressive vertical explosive capacity and can quickly move upfield without strain. He also showcases solid long-strider speed when navigating through open spaces, which allows him to expand seams as he enters them.

Considering his size, LaPorta is remarkably agile and fluid. He can easily redirect his movements during quick out routes, and his foot speed and twitch are particularly impressive for his build. LaPorta can also make sudden adjustments to his attack paths and execute single cuts with urgency. Although his foot speed can be inconsistent, he has the ability to increase his strides whenever necessary.

One of LaPorta’s key strengths as a tight end is his catching instincts. He has demonstrated the ability to catch passes in stride using his hands, allowing him to gain additional yards after the catch. LaPorta is also capable of lowering himself to catch difficult passes and protect the ball with his hands and frame.

He can even extend beyond his frame to secure passes while managing his feet at the boundary, and he possesses excellent ball-tracking abilities downfield and up the seam. LaPorta has also shown the ability to catch passes while taking hits from defenders and displays solid hand-eye coordination and timing at the catch point.

Despite not always being highlighted in Iowa’s offense, LaPorta has solid separation ability. His smooth athleticism suggests even greater potential, and he can maintain acceleration through route breaks and execute tight angles with curvilinear acceleration.

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 a decent stopping ability on comebacks. On top of that, he’s shown to press upfield into stems and eat up cushions, 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 can 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.

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 also provides value in that phase. 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 use 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 also block on the move and work in space.

LaPorta’s Areas for Improvement

LaPorta’s profile 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.

Although LaPorta meets the necessary athletic requirements and performs well in tests, his explosiveness during transitions is not consistently elite, and he can sometimes struggle to change direction quickly. Additionally, his long speed does not allow him to outrun defensive backs downfield.

In short ranges, LaPorta can appear a bit cumbersome and needs to gather himself before making cuts. He also has difficulty decelerating and changing direction after accelerating from the snap. However, LaPorta’s athleticism and ability to change direction are relative strengths.

On the other hand, his average size and play strength as a TE may be potential weaknesses at the NFL level. LaPorta’s hand strength is not great and he can struggle against physical defenders, being disrupted and moved off his blocking spot. As both a receiver and blocker, LaPorta can sometimes struggle when facing contact, losing balance and coordination.

Improving his play strength could help with this at the next level, but at 6’3″ and below-average length, his frame may be nearly filled out. LaPorta sometimes drifts upfield after sharp route breaks as a receiver, allowing defensive backs to recover positioning more quickly. He also lacks the hip sink and flexibility to cut sharp 90-degree angles inside.

Consequently, he can sometimes drift through breaks on digs, playing tall and allowing DBs to recover ground. As previously mentioned, LaPorta does not have the strength to consistently sustain blocks against defensive ends.

He can be knocked off-balance fairly easily by power exertions, which can create lanes off the snap. Additionally, he 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. LaPorta sometimes lets the ball into his frame and resorts to body catching, which can result in drops. 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.

LaPorta’s size, strength, and catch radius are his biggest concerns when it comes to his performance at the next level. He falls short in all of these areas and struggles to overcome physicality. Despite this, LaPorta’s size does not hinder his performance and he has a well-rounded game otherwise.

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

LaPorta has the receiving skills of a proficient second tight end, and his versatility and reliable blocking make him even more attractive to coaches. Ideally, in a system that allows him to operate as an intermediate target and receive short-range passes, he could be a valuable complementary weapon with the potential to become an above-average starter.

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