Detroit Lions select Sam LaPorta with the 34th pick. Grade: A
(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
The Lions took T.J. Hockenson out of Iowa with the eighth overall pick in the 2019 draft, traded him to the Vikings last year, and went right back to that esteemed tight end pipeline with their third pick in 2023. LaPorta would have been talked about a lot more in a more functional offense, but the fact that he was able to do a lot in the Hawkeyes’ “Three-and-Out” stuff indicates that he’ll be a real winner right away in Ben Johnson’s multi-faceted schemes.
Height: 6′ 3⅜” (23rd percentile) Weight: 245 (17th)
40-Yard Dash: 4.59 (90th)
10-Yard Split: 1.62 (69th)
Bench Press: N/A
Vertical Jump: 35″ (73rd)
Broad Jump: 123″ (90th)
3-Cone Drill: 6.91 (88th)
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.25 (78th)
Arm Length: 32⅛” (16th)
Hand Size: 10¼” (81st)
Bio: A four-year letterman and three-year team captain at Highland High in Highland, Illinois, LaPorta played wide receiver and defensive back to good renown. He was also a star in basketball, baseball, and track, and Iowa broke the logjam for the three-star recruit by offering him a football scholarship after seeing how he moved on the basketball court. Over four seasons with the Hawkeyes, LaPorta caught 153 passes on 238 targets for 1,777 yards and five touchdowns. Last season, he had 381 snaps in-line, 111 in the slot, 90 out wide, 28 in the backfield, and three at quarterback.
If you want to know how the Hawkeyes finished their 2022 season with an 8-5 record, including a 21-0 win over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, consider that their defense ranked second among FBS teams in points allowed per game, and they ranked 123rd of 131 in points scored per game. Sam LaPorta, who continues an estimable tradition of Iowa tight ends including Dallas Clark, George Kittle, Noah Fant, and T.J. Hockenson, was the only real receiving threat in a passing game that averaged 14.8 completions, 156.7 yards, and 0.5 touchdowns per contest. His 58 catches on 90 targets for 648 yards and one touchdown should be seen in context. We generally go with more biographical information here, but it really is important to note what LaPorta was able to do with what he had to deal with.
Stat to Know: LaPorta led all tight ends in his class with 20 missed tackles forced, and I think about half of them came on this 27-yard catch against Kentucky in that bowl game.
by my count, iowa te sam laporta broke 136 tackles on this play #Analytics pic.twitter.com/nNxvVHu94i
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) April 15, 2023
Strengths: So, yes. LaPorta is an after-catch demon, who has the wherewithal to find openings in space on short passes, and an impressive determination to beat people up when their uniforms look different than his. the whole “contested catch” idea is relative with him, because he’s generally the one doing the contesting.
We talked about the importance of the “Y-iso” position in the Dalton Kincaid discussion, and LaPorta is another prospect with the athleticism to be that guy.
Weaknesses: LaPorta might be a willing blocker; I’m not sure. But the results on tape are often lacking. He doesn’t really have an awareness to target and stick defenders, which can lead to some interesting whiffs.
LaPorta had six drops last season and 14 during his time at Iowa, which is less than optimal. You don’t want to assume that a tight end hears footsteps over the middle, but…
Conclusion: LaPorta’s NFL team should be excited to play on his potential in an offense that didn’t scare anybody. That team will also have to acclimate to his blocking issues, drops, and the fact that his height precludes him from being a post-up weapon downfield. Still, he shows ability as a move tight end and H-back, and that should work pretty easily into his next phase.
NFL Comparison: Owen Daniels. The Texans took Daniels in the fourth round of the 2006 draft out of Wisconsin, and Daniels managed to make two Pro Bowls as an undersized tight end with a lot of savvy, despite mostly bad-to-horrible quarterbacks. Like Daniels, who finished his NFL career as one of Peyton Manning’s more reliable targets in Denver, LaPorta has proven the ability to transcend broken offenses.