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Kirk Ferentz to NFL teams: ‘Don’t make the same mistake’ of underestimating Sam LaPorta
Iowa tight end had par-to-above-par combine numbers, but still sees room for improvement ahead of NFL Draft
IOWA CITY — As late as November of his senior year of high school, Sam LaPorta did not have any Power Five football scholarship offers.
Iowa finally offered the eventual standout tight end in December.
“We underestimated him certainly in the recruiting process,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said this week. “We were really fortunate that we were able to get him and his mom to come up here and look.”
Now as LaPorta prepares to find an NFL home, Ferentz has been telling “the NFL people that will listen, ‘Don't make the same mistake we almost made.’”
“He may not be 6-5,” Ferentz said of the 6-foot-3 tight end. “But he's a heck of a football player, outstanding tight end, outstanding player. Unbelievable temperament. Just loves to compete.”
The Highland, Ill., native was one of three finalists in 2022 for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the top tight end in college football. His 58 receptions last season, despite tearing his meniscus in November, outpaced Iowa’s top two wide receivers combined.
LaPorta’s participation in the Music City Bowl, especially after suffering an injury in November, made a lasting impression on Ferentz.
“Talk about an anti-2022 college football player,” Ferentz said. “He never even thought about not playing. We weren’t sure he should. We were like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to think about this?’ That’s just how he’s wired. … That will continue to serve him well.”
It perhaps already has. His most eye-opening play from the Music City Bowl — he broke six tackles on his way to a 27-yard reception — caught NFL teams’ attention.
“In meetings, there was good plays, and there was bad plays,” LaPorta said. “So that was a good play in some cutup tapes for teams.”
LaPorta stayed in Nashville after the bowl game to train for the combine, taking a very brief break after his Iowa finale before switching gears to NFL Draft prep.
“I trained like two days later,” LaPorta said. “You sit around, you feel like you’re getting lazy, so it’s just like, ‘Let’s get to work.’”
That work was evident at the NFL Combine.
LaPorta ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash, which was the third-fastest time among tight ends. Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson, in comparison, ran a 4.7 40 when coming out of Iowa in 2019, and fellow Pro-Bowler George Kittle ran a 4.52 in 2017.
LaPorta’s other combine numbers also were par or above-par when compared to other tight ends in the 2023 combine, but he still sees room for improvement in his game.
“I feel like I have a long way to go as a blocker,” LaPorta said.
With the draft looming five weeks away, LaPorta, one of Iowa’s permanent 2022 team captains, appears to be a likely second- or third-round selection.
Pro Football Focus ranks LaPorta as the 50th-best prospect overall and fourth-best among tight ends. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks LaPorta sixth among tight ends.
As he looks ahead to his NFL career, shaking hands with prospective NFL teams has taken him back to the high school recruiting days when he first met Ferentz.
“I remember the first time I met Coach Ferentz, I was like ‘dang, holy s---,’” LaPorta said. “Same thing with these teams. You go shake hands with head coaches, general managers, owners — a couple of them were in the meetings. It’s just like, ‘Wow, like this is really happening right now.’”