Dan Campbell's Dream Tight End
It feels like since Dan Campbell got to Detroit they have been missing elite receiving production out of their tight end spot. When you look at the three geniuses in charge of the Lions’ offense it is: Campbell, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, and passing-game coordinator Tanner Engstrand; all three got their starts as tight end coaches. They have been waiting to find their guy, and them trading up in the second round to get Iowa tight end, Sam LaPorta, gives me belief that he is that guy.
In Johnson’s offense, tight ends are asked to trap block, sift on split zone, and get up to the second level. LaPorta has the toughness and mindset that allows him to take on blocks and meet defenders head on; however, he lacks elite knock-back and pop against defensive linemen. LaPorta has ideal bend and change of direction skills that make him an asset on zone-blocking schemes. His wiggle allows him to get proper hat placement to create holes on inside and mid-zone and seal on the edge on outside zone. Those change of direction skills show off when he has to re-direct at the second level and block linebackers and defensive backs. Once LaPorta makes contact on the second level, he is consistently able to roll his hips through and strain his block. LaPorta allows Johnson to get creative as a play-caller and scheme runs that they would not have been able to do before.
While LaPorta is dynamic as a run-blocker, his quickness and mindset after the catch makes him a threat as a receiver. LaPorta has very good short-area quickness that he uses to shake defenders at the top of his routes and with the ball in his hands. His hands are just average and he has a shorter wingspan, but once he has the ball in his hands he seeks contact and never lets just one defender bring him down. He does a good job at using his hands throughout the route and using physicality to gain separation. There is still room for him to grow as a receiver; I would say he does not have great spacial awareness when sitting vs zone, but that can be coached. His ability to get downhill, keep his legs churning through contact, and use his quickness to make defenders miss reminds me a lot of George Kittle. His awareness is not quite at the level of Kittle’s, but that comes with reps and experience. In Johnson’s offense, I believe he can be their version of what Kittle is the 49ers.
LaPorta is not the flashiest player, but he is going to create explosives in the run game and make plays after the catch. What gets me really excited about him is that I believe he was misused at Iowa and will be put in more of an “in-line role” in Johnson’s offense. While I believe LaPorta will still be impactful when flexed out on passing downs, I expect Johnson to primarily use him attached at the end of the line. With the Hawkeyes, LaPorta showed glimpses of what he is capable of as a receiver. I believe the Lions will build off of that and use him as a versatile piece over the middle of the field and on move the pocket play-action passes. At Iowa, LaPorta only caught five touchdowns in four years; with the Lions I believe he has the chance to be a productive option especially in their heavier personnel. I believe the Lions found the tight end that Dan Campbell has been searching for since he got to Detroit.
Play Strength + Explosion: 10/12
Ball Skills: 8/10
Strain + Finish: 8.75/10
Reactive Athleticism: 6.75/8
Mentality + Relentlessness: 7/8
Short Area Quickness + Change Of Direction: 7.25/8
Play-Making Ability: 5.25/6
Final Rating: 83
Player Comparison: George Kittle with less power and spacial awareness
Draft Grade: Late First - Early Second Round
Draft Projection: Early Second Round