Long labeled an NFL draft prospect with his scouting report, where does Iowa TE Sam LaPorta stand in the stacked 2023 class? Here’s a full accounting of LaPorta’s abilities and what his NFL projection might look like.
Sam LaPorta NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Tight End
- School: Iowa
- Current Year: Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’4″, 249 pounds
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 6’4″ 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 continues to produce. Does he have the traits to potentially expand on his collegiate production among the professional ranks?
The Iowa football program knows what to look for when recruiting tight ends, and LaPorta most certainly fits the bill. At 6’4″, 249 pounds, he has a solid frame with good height and weight, with decent corresponding length.
LaPorta isn’t quite the caliber of athlete that the Hawkeyes have boasted at the position in the past, but he is solid in that regard. He flashes good vertical explosive capacity and has shown he can gear up with little strain upfield. Meanwhile, in space, LaPorta shows off above-average long-strider speed.
For his size, LaPorta also brings good 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 to 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.
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.
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 and can function as a lead blocker.
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, he visibly lacks elite explosiveness out of transitions and sometimes trudges out of breaks. He also lacks much of a 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.
Much like his athleticism, LaPorta’s lack of elite size and play strength — while not a weakness — does show up on film. The Iowa TE doesn’t have great hand strength and can’t consistently work against prying defenders. He can be disrupted and moved off his spot by physical DBs, and he doesn’t always work through contact effectively — too easily losing his balance and coordination when faced with opposing physicality.
As a route runner, LaPorta sometimes drifts upfield after sharp route breaks, allowing defensive backs to recover positioning more quickly. He also doesn’t 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
There’s a lot of room for individual preference in this 2023 tight end class. Thus, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that LaPorta sneaks into the top 100. On my board, he’s an early-to-mid Day 3 prospect, but LaPorta carries a lot of appeal as a long-term rotational NFL TE with some starting upside.
LaPorta isn’t an elite overall athlete, and he lacks elite size and strength as well. He’s not a liability anywhere physically, but these non-elite qualities are visible, and they dilute his ultimate ceiling a bit. LaPorta’s not an overly explosive vertical threat, and he doesn’t work through contact as consistently as you’d like for a tight end.
Nevertheless, as an athlete, he’s smooth and nuanced enough to separate in the short and intermediate ranges. And when he has space to work with, he’s a very reliable receiver with natural instincts and solid run-after-catch ability.
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. In a deep TE class, LaPorta can be a sound value deal, with the well-rounded skill set to carve out a long, respectable career.