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BHGP Film Room: LaPorta is LaNext

Sam LaPorta looks to join the list of great Hawkeye tight ends

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Holiday Bowl - USC v Iowa Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sam LaPorta

6’4” 250 lbs - Sophomore

2019: 15 receptions / 188 yards

As a true freshman, Sam LaPorta appeared in 12 games and recorded two starts. His first reception however, did not come until the eighth game of the season. Prior to that, he spent the majority of his time as the third tight end in Iowa’s goal line package. Once he appeared on the scene, he stuck. Over the final six games, LaPorta was targeted 21 times. What jumps out to me is that of his 188 yards, 86 came after the catch (46%). By comparison, in 2018, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant recorded 45% and 48% of their yards after the catch respectively. Iowa’s best tight ends have not only been security blankets for their quarterback, but they have been able to make big plays in big moments.

Big Play Beginnings

LaPorta’s first reception came during the eighth game of the season, at Northwestern. Earlier in the game, LaPorta had what appeared to be 30-plus yard reception overturned. He quickly made his name heard again by picking up 42 yards for his first reception. After making the contested catch, LaPorta sheds the cornerback and races upfield for another 22 yards.

Iowa was in a double tight set with LaPorta off the line of scrimmage. By doing this, he is ensured a clean release and cross the field behind the linebackers. Notice the discipline route running as he takes his first two steps directly toward the boundary corner before rerouting to the middle of the field.

Once again, it is LaPorta working the middle of the field crossing behind the linebackers that causes the defense troubles. This time, he begins by running underneath the outside defender. After that, he goes behind the middle linebacker while Tyler Goodson uses a mesh concept to run underneath that same linebacker. LaPorta is able to create depth behind the defender and Stanley delivers an on time and target pass. At the end of the play, LaPorta is battling four Illini defenders for extra yardage. Finish the play through defenders is a hallmark of Iowa tight ends.

Gameplay Awareness

As a young player, the game is moving at warp speed. While focusing on assignment football, it can be easy to lose track of situational awareness. As a true freshman, LaPorta showed his awareness and skill on this third down conversion.

LaPorta starts in the boundary slot, with quarterback Nate Stanley in shotgun. On this 3rd and 8 play, LaPorta is able to find the soft spot in the zone and convert the first down. He makes a difficult reception look easy as he repositions his body to catch the pass that was thrown inside during an outbreaking route. He does a great job of using soft hands to pluck the ball out of the care before securing it to his body knowing he is about to absorb contact from multiple defenders.

With the clock winding down at Nebraska, Iowa is in full hurry-up mode with only 13 seconds remaining and no timeouts. Following an outstanding reception by Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Iowa is still about 20 yards from field goal range. LaPorta is lined up to the field slot with two other receivers positioned outside of him. He begins his route once again attacking the outside shoulder of the defender before angling back inside and up the seam. Following the catch, he’s aware enough to gain about 5 more yards before attempting to slide to the ground as he is getting tackled. Not only does he make the clutch reception, but he is aware of the time and positioning on the field. 22 yards. 1st Down. Time stops to move the chains.

Leading to...

Best for Last

LaPorta had his most productive game of the season in the Holiday Bowl where he recorded six receptions on six targets. The biggest of them being a 3rd and 11 conversion in the 3rd quarter when Iowa was only leading 28-24.

These are the plays that make your quarterback fall in love as LaPorta is able to use his size to provide a clean target in the middle of the field. The pass it outside of his frame, but he makes an outstanding play to jump and secure the catch while taking a big hit from the defensive back. This play has it all. Bravery to expose your body knowing a big hit is coming. Great hands to grab a ball outside of the body. Strength and toughness to do both of those and still secure the ball all the way to the ground.

Iowa fans have been lucky to watch some of the best tight ends in the nation dawn the black and gold over the years. With what we saw during the late stages of the 2019 season, the wait for the next might not be long.