Much digital ink has been spilled over which school deserves the moniker “TE U.” Surely the designation is overinflated, yet still important at the same time. Coaches use it for marketing and recruiting, and then opposing coaches dunk on said coaches for disseminating misinformation. Rinse repeat.
With two tight ends selected in the first round of an NFL draft still a recent memory, and George Kittle still Kittleing, Iowa has a unique opportunity to market itself to the most talented youngsters at the position.
Unfortunately, Iowa hasn’t totally reaped what its sowed on the recruiting trail. Yet.
And that’s OK, because this isn’t a recruiting post. We’re gonna talk about known commodities, and there’s at least one tight end on the Iowa roster who’s poised to become the sixth Iowa tight end in the NFL.
Third and LaPorta
Junior Sam LaPorta is the only tight end on the roster with any meaningful game experience. Spelled by Sean Beyer a year ago, LaPorta could easily emerge as a security blanket or even a first option for Spencer Petras as the season begins.
LaPorta broke onto the scene in 2019 as a true freshman, as Beyer and Nate Wieting dealt with injuries and struggled to make plays. Despite not making his first catch until eight games into the season, LaPorta still led tight ends in all stats, and had a 6-catch performance in the Holiday Bowl.
We’re high on LaPorta around here, and see no reason to believe he can’t shine in 2021. He averaged just over three catches a game in an abbreviated 2020, and without Ihmir Smith-Marsette or Brandon Smith, LaPorta joins Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini as the only proven pass-catching quantities for Petras. Prorated over 12 games, LaPorta’s 2020 production comes close to mirroring Noah Fant’s 2018 season that clipped 39 catches for 519 yards.
Look for doses of LaPorta early and often throughout 2021, and keep your eyes peeled for a TE 2 who can take some pressure off him...
La La Land
After a LaPorta we have a Lachey. Luke Lachey is a year younger and two inches taller than LaPorta, and is poised to see snaps a year after redshirting. A three-star prospect out of Columbus, Lachey had a laundry list of offers but only really considered Iowa and Michigan State. He committed to the Hawkeyes three days after his official visit and that was that.
(The only action Lachey saw all year came against Michigan State, which is a nice exercise in pettiness by the Iowa staff.)
He’s been on campus since, gaining 30 lbs to become a viable weapon for the Iowa offense. Lachey has been relatively quiet in the open practices and spring games so far, but Iowa is pretty notorious for keeping a lid on those kinds of things. Consider the fact that the Iowa offense is ahead of the defense for like the first time ever for this time of year, and it’s fair to be optimistic about Iowa’s... fifth? Sixth? best receiving option at this point? Or maybe it isn’t.
Right now Lachey is in prove it mode. But Iowa’s pedigree gives us the wiggle room to be overly optimistic about his role this year and beyond.
Eli Yelverton and Josiah Miamen remain as Iowa’s scholarship players at the position. Miamen made some noise after getting in trouble with the law in the spring, otherwise, both have been quiet.
Each were three star recruits with decent offer sheets. Each redshirted their first year on campus, and neither has seen the field in an official capacity. Miamen spent most of last year injured.
It’s now basically a battle between the two on who’s the better blocker for special teams and to give Lachey a breather while LaPorta is on the field. Each has had a quiet spring, but Yelverton seems to be cemented as TE1 for the second team offense.
It could still be a while for either of these guys to see significant time, but there’s still a greater than zero chance they could end up as significant contributors to a future team. We’re talking about TE U, after all, and the baton has to be passed on to somebody.
Bryce Schulte, Andrew Lentsch, Johnny Pascuzzi, Tommy Kujawa, and Jackson Frericks make up the rest of the tight end room.
Schulte and Kujawa are the lone seniors in the entire group. The former has earned a spot on special teams, but I don’t really see anyone outside the four on scholarship making any sort of significant noise in 2021.