2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Sam LaPorta (Fantasy Football)
Hi, my name is Julia, and I am a card-carrying member of the “I got burned by Kyle Pitts” club. I remember the time well…a fresh-faced, bright-eyed TE from Florida waltzed into the NFL carrying the weight of the world and future-assumed Kelce-level greatness, and I fell for him. So many of us fell for him. And look, I have not written Mr. Pitts off entirely, but we all witnessed Andy’s prolific Pitts personal breakdown, and he spoke for all of us. Andy, I feel you.
So it is with a wounded heart that I look at these rookie TEs, poised and ready to enter the 2023 draft. I do not want to get hurt again. But I am learning to love again; I mean, this group of TEs has been touted as the best class in this position for years. So here we go; let’s start with Sam LaPorta, a TE out of Iowa.
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2023 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2023.
Sam LaPorta grew up in Illinois and attended Highland High School, where he played WR and defensive back. After catching 50 TDs and almost 3,800 receiving yards, LaPorta committed to the University of Iowa and quickly transitioned to playing TE. He put on some weight and promptly had success at the position. LaPorta could have easily left Iowa at the end of the 2022 season and declared for the draft – especially in a year where his position left much to be desired. However, LaPorta chose to return to college and complete his tenure at Iowa, and in so doing, be crowned the Big Ten player of the year at his position, as well as the Kwalick-Clark TE of the Year in 2022, which awards the league’s best TE. LaPorta has a full mantle – he also earned Iowa’s Hustle award in 2021, Iowa’s offensive MVP trophy in 2022, and was a permanent team captain. Iowa seems to breed TEs – well-known alumni include Dallas Clark, TJ Hockenson, Noah Fant, and George Kittle. You could almost call Iowa TE university with the amount of talent coming out of that program, so LaPorta has big shoes to fill entering the NFL.
LaPorta injured his knee late in the regular season, tearing his meniscus in late 2022 against Minnesota. He had surgery almost immediately and sat out Iowa’s final regular season game. However, a mere month after undergoing arthroscopic surgery, he was back at practice, hoping to play in Iowa’s bowl game, his last game as a Hawkeye. And play he did. Laporta caught five balls for 56 yards as Iowa went on to beat Kentucky 21-0 in the Music City Bowl.
Sam LaPorta is a human TANK 😳
LaPorta posted a 4.59 40-Yard Dash and a 6.91 3-Cone time at the NFL Combine earlier this week.
Don’t sleep on the Iowa TE. pic.twitter.com/3SbEb7T4sV
— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) March 9, 2023
When looking at his measurables, some things that pop out immediately are the glaring similarities to fellow Iowa alumni George Kittle. Height, weight, and vertical jump were practically identical between the two men, and Kittle only edged LaPorta out at his combine by 0.07 seconds. There are worse players to be compared to. LaPorta was solid in all the drills in Indy – he ranked third among TEs with his 40 time and was second in his three-cone time. LaPorta looked especially smooth in the gauntlet. His outstanding overall performance at the combine, coupled with his consistent success in college, seems to have LaPorta on an upward trajectory as we head into the draft season.
Sam LaPorta led Big 10 TEs last season in…
🥇 Catches (53)
🥇 Yards (670)
🥇 Yards after catch (299)
🥇 Yards after contact (206)
🥇 Catches of 15+ yards (18)pic.twitter.com/wanw3qzxBE
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 12, 2022
What’s on Tape:
Games Viewed: Iowa St. (’22), Illinois (’22), Purdue (’22), Wisconsin (’22)
1. Excelling in a Bad Offense
Nathan Stanley. Alex Padilla. Spencer Petras. Joe Labas. These are the QBs that cycled through under center during LaPorta’s four years at Iowa; at times four different QBs were throwing in Iowa City. Iowa’s QB woes continued to affect their overall offensive success – they weren’t horrible by any means, but in Laporta’s senior year, they finished at 7-5 and not even ranked pre-season in the AP Poll. Despite the team’s inconsistency, LaPorta was solid as a rock and grew as a player as each year passed. Each year his targets, receptions, and yards increased. In addition, his YAC steadily increased each year, culminating in his final year at 317 yards, five times as many as what he gained his freshman year.
In 2021, Iowa QBs threw for just over 2,500 yards. With LaPorta going for almost 500 receiving yards that season, 20% of the air yards went his way. His senior year, the Hawkeye QBs had even more trouble with passing, only garnering around 2,000 yards. That season PFF graded Iowa with a 55.2 passing grade. That was 111th. Their overall offensive grade was even worse, ranking them at 113th. LaPorta hit almost 600 receiving yards that year, equating to 30% of the team’s air yards. LaPorta was an integral part of any offensive success Iowa had, especially through the air.
2. Solid After the Catch
LaPorta is one of the best in creating yards after the catch. During his final season, he had 317 YAC (third among TEs) and averaged six yards after the catch per reception (tied for 11th among TEs with 25 or more targets). He also had a great yards per route run with 2.10 yards, which has him tied for third amongst TEs. Dalton Kincaid and Michael Mayer are the only two other TEs more successful after the catch in 2022. And LaPorta isn’t good only with yards after the catch, he is one of the best when it comes to forcing missed tackles after the catch. LaPorta forced 14 missed tackles his senior year, tied for second amongst TEs.
3. Expansive Route Tree
Nobody likes a route bush. We like expansive route trees in the NFL, and it is a delight to see a player begin to explore this in college. LaPorta is one of the most versatile TEs in this class when it comes to his route tree – he was targeted all over the field at all depths and was fairly consistent in all areas. LaPorta was almost equally targeted in man and zone coverage during his senior year – 41 in man (the sixth most among TEs) and 37 in zone (the most targeted TE) and totaled over half of his snaps between those two. He is successful out wide, throwing his big body against smaller DBs, and can gain separation well against man coverage. LaPorta was also targeted at all depths, with an average ADOT of 7.3 – he was targeted the most on short passes, just under ten yards.
What’s Not on Tape:
1. Consistent Solid Hands
At times LaPorta can come down with a case of the dropsies. He had 13 drops over his career at Iowa, with six coming in 2022, tied for the third most within his draft class. A 10% drop rate is not something to write home about. He also is credited with three interceptions and one fumble. He will have to get this under control if he wants to become a dependable target in the NFL.
2. Coming Down with Contested Catches
For a player the size of LaPorta, he has a tough time coming down with contested catches. He had 12 contested targets in 2022 – 37 total for his college career – yet only hauled in 30% of those. That barely puts him in that statistic’s top 100 TEs in his class. Big-bodied TEs need to make hay in the contested catch game, and for some reason, LaPorta could not do this in college. The combination of the inability to come down with a contested target and the tendency to drop said target if it is brought down becomes worrisome when considering his fit in the NFL.
You need TDs from your TEs. In a world filled with five for 55 and four for 44, a score is the only thing that will give you a win when your TE isn’t a man with the last name of Kelce. Granted, Iowa was a more run-heavy offense with 12 rushing TDs in 2022 versus seven passing TDs, and clearly, with those numbers, one can say that, as a whole, they weren’t much of an offense at all, and LaPorta needs to learn to capitalize. He was so solid with catches and yardage gained in a subpar offense that it was sad not to see his ability to put that TD cherry on top of his sundae.
2023 Fantasy Outlook
A TE like Sam LaPorta can be a bit of a pickle in fantasy football – let’s call it the George Kittle phenomenon. Kittle is a solid TE, strong, athletic, and excellent after the catch – just like LaPorta. However, both men’s ability to block diminishes their value slightly, at least in fantasy. If you have been a Kittle owner in the past, how many weeks were you angry that he went for 30 or so yards while opening up the lane for Deebo to get two TDs, just to be elated the following week when he was able to catch a bomb 70 yarder and hop into the endzone? This issue always arises when drafting a strong blocking TE in fantasy football – they can be used in so many different ways.
LaPorta might be great for regular football but less great for fantasy football – time will tell. Now don’t hear what I’m not saying – Sam LaPorta should be a solid draft pick and teams should be able to get him at somewhat of a value, but he might not have the high fantasy ceiling right off the bat that we want to see as managers. Fantasy managers want to see him go to a team that utilizes him as a big-body receiver, taking advantage of his football knowledge and ability to run routes while not being used as a blocker first. LaPorta has seen his stock rise steadily since the combine, ranking around pick 218 in mid-February (according to nflmockdraftdatabase.com) to near pick 50 as of March 22. I think we will see him go in the late 2nd round or early 3rd round. Don’t be afraid to target LaPorta in your rookie drafts, especially if you can get him in the late 3rd round – this solid athlete will certainly turn into a successful NFL TE.