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Dynasty Player Spotlight: Sam LaPorta

By C. H. Herms | Updated on Sat, 13 Apr 2024 . 9:42 PM EDT

Easy As One-Two-Three...?

Welcome back to the Dynasty Player Spotlight series.

Each week, we take a look at some key performances from NFL play and deliver actionable analysis that dynasty managers should use to their advantage.

We hope you enjoyed last week’s palette cleanser previewing six of the top 2024 NFL Draft prospects.

But now we’re over a month into the NFL season, and it's time to pivot back to the professional ranks.

To augment the old adage, one game is a fluke; two games may be a coincidence, but five games is a hefty sample size.

Identifying early breakouts and busts isn’t a challenging task at this point.

 

Who's Real and Who's Fake?

It sure looks like Bears WR D.J. Moore is exactly the stud, WR1-type of player many thought he could be if he ever left the Panthers. Coming off a monster 49-point performance in Week 5, he now ranks as the WR4 overall in PPR scoring with a 2.97 yards per route run that ranks fifth among WRs who’ve seen at least 25 targets in 2023.

I’d also like to take this time to apologize to anyone who took my advice from August and thought Jaguars rookie RB Tank Bigsby could be a league-winner in 2023.

Travis Etienne has a stranglehold on the Jacksonville backfield with an 80.5% touch opportunity share, and HC Doug Pederson’s history of deploying a committee backfield simply doesn’t matter. Whoops!

Those who selected Bigsby with a late-second or early third-round rookie pick are perhaps a little pissed off knowing that they could’ve had a true superstar breakout around that same stage of the draft.

Wondering who?

This week, we’ll be focusing on the tremendous run that Lions TE Sam LaPorta has been on lately.

Never overlook value in your leagues.

Stay up-to-date with our dynasty rankings here at Draft Sharks.

  

Signs From The Beginning

Back in July, The Athletic's Colton Pouncy said that he’s “trying [his] best not to write about LaPorta every day, but it’s hard not to when he looks as dialed in as he has,” and that “not a day goes by when LaPorta doesn’t make a standout play."

The 34th overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft has been making a name for himself in Detroit since arrival.

We took this buzz to heart and included LaPorta as one of our favorite late-round draft targets in our 2023 TE preview for the redraft crowd.

But from a dynasty perspective, my Draft Sharks colleague Matt Schauf wrote glowingly about LaPorta in his draft profile before we even knew his NFL landing spot and compared him to former Commanders TE Jordan Reed.

This is a company that’s been “in” on the rookie the whole time.

Still, even we weren’t prepared for the type of production he’s posted to open this season.

  

Absolutely Killing It

Among 37 TEs who’ve seen at least 10 targets in 2023, LaPorta ranks first in receiving yards (289), second in target share (23.5%), third in yards per route run (2.24), and seventh in catch rate (80.6%).

In fantasy terms, he’s the TE3 in PPR points per game (14.4) and the TE1 overall (71.9).

This is, as the youths say, quite lit.

LaPorta’s performance within the context of his own team is also impressive. He ranks second on the Lions with a 24% target per route run rate. That’s only two percentage points below WR Amon-Ra St. Brown.

In lay terms, he’s pretty much just as important functionally to Detroit’s successful passing game as one of the NFL’s most prolific young wideouts.

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Still trying to chase down that elusive dynasty title?

Quickly zooming back out, to put his production into context within other NFL TEs, it’s also worth noting that LaPorta has pulled off this spectacular stretch of production with a modest three catches for 12 yards and one TD in the red zone.

Several TEs find cheap points by way of their teams lobbing up beachball throws from in close that only a big body can go up and grab for scores, but just 14.18% of LaPorta’s PPR points this season come from production within the 20-yard line.

To borrow a phrase from my colleague Alex Korff: "that’s not a bug; that’s a feature!"

  

Historical Context

So just how good has LaPorta been?

Since 2000, here's where LaPorta ranks among TEs through the first five games of their NFL career: 

  • tied for first in receiving TDs (3)
  • first in PPR points (71.9)
  • second in receptions (25)
  • tied for third in receiving yards (298)

In each of these areas, LaPorta compares favorably to former Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez (but only the football stuff), the aforementioned Jordan Reed, and current Falcons TE Kyle Pitts.

Moreover, at his current rate, LaPorta is on pace for 85 catches this season, which would break the rookie TE reception record of 81 set by Eagles TE Keith Jackson in 1988. He’s also on track for 983 receiving yards, which would rank third all-time among rookie TEs.

Perhaps with a blowup game or two, LaPorta could join Pitts as the second rookie TE to log a 1,000-yard season in the last 60 years.

 

Pump The Brakes?

Before I get too ahead of myself and make a bold proclamation about where dynasty managers should value LaPorta amongst his professional counterparts, let’s take a deep breath.

[inhale, exhale]

If you’ve read this far, you’ll notice I’ve mentioned the names of a couple of my coworkers here at Draft Sharks. This week, we’re going to try something a little different and introduce a fun section called ‘Ask The Sharks.’

There’s a strong case to be made that LaPorta could be considered as the TE1 in dynasty, but I wanted to gain some perspectives from my fellow analysts as a gut-check.

Ask The Sharks: How high would you rank Sam LaPorta among dynasty TEs right now?

Jared Smola: “Five games is not enough for me to push LaPorta ahead of Kyle Pitts, who’s just three months older than LaPorta, had a far superior prospect profile, and topped 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie. Behind Pitts, whether you value LaPorta over guys like Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and T.J. Hockenson depends on where your team is at. If you’re on the cusp of a championship, I’d have no issue dealing LaPorta for one of the elite veterans.”

Matt Schauf: I’m not sure how much it matters who sits 1 vs. 2 vs. 3 in the rankings. Let me put it this way: There’s no TE I would give LaPorta straight up to acquire right now.”

Kevin English: "Our current DMVP values have LaPorta at 49.5 – just ahead of Kyle Pitts (49.1). That’s enough to put the Lion at TE4. I’m in agreement there. It’s essentially a coin flip, with LaPorta boosted by the much better current enviroment."

These perspectives present some dissonance but serve as a reminder that dynasty fantasy football is a difficult format to operate within.

I like to use these articles as vessels for teachable, actionable advice, but this topic is a bit of a tough nut to crack.

There’s a reason why we don’t have a ton of concrete answers when it comes to the TE position in our core dynasty strategy philosophy here at Draft Sharks, but let's find an answer, shall we?

How should dynasty managers approach the TEs, and specifically Sam LaPorta, moving forward?

TIP

Never make a deal without consulting our dynasty trade value charts.

  

Digging For Answers

TE is a game of the Haves and Have-Nots.

Either you have someone like Sam LaPorta or you don't. There's maybe five of these players in the league right now, and we named just about all of them above.

The lack of sustainable production at this position year-over-year that redraft managers deal with should give us a hint as to how we should go about the valuation of elite assets in dynasty.

Let’s borrow some of the research I did this summer about TEs to illustrate this point.

First, here’s a chart displaying the consensus preseason top-12 ADP TEs vs. their eventual overall PPR finish since 2016:

Second, here’s a chart displaying the consensus preseason top-12 ADP TEs vs. their eventual points per game finish since 2016:

So what’s this week’s Dynasty Spotlight conclusion?

1.) Managers in contending windows should absolutely go after an elite TE producer. Whether that means rolling with LaPorta or dealing him away for a primo vet like Kelce, Andrews, or otherwise, just know you’re on the right track right now. It's likely that you're holding a top-5 asset, and you should be thrilled with the world of possibilities in front of you!

2.) If you’re not in that window to secure a title, playing the lottery with lower-end assets who show promise and investing in later-round rookie picks with solid upsides in their production profile(s) in hopes of finding a guy like Sam LaPorta is probably your smartest move. Don't push and go out to trade for LaPorta or someone else right now.

3.) If you're a rebuilder with a guy like Commanders TE Logan Thomas or Cardinals TE Zach Ertz, make a deal to send these veterans to a contender. Recoup rookie picks or younger assets at different positions in the deal. Feed into the lottery.

The tl;dr version of that is simply that the “All-Or-Nothing” TE strategy reigns supreme across both redraft and dynasty.

To close, here’s another perspective from Matt Schauf:

“I’d play [dynasty] similar to redraft. Try to get a top-level guy if you can, obviously targeting as young a top option as possible. If I don’t have such a player, I’m probably looking at piecing it together with lower-level options rather than trying to trade for someone in the range of Evan Engram or Pat Freiermuth. Noah Fant looks particularly interesting to me right now. He’ll turn just 26 in November, and his Seattle contract runs out in March. Small investment now could land you a guy with big rebound potential beyond this season.”

Take notes, friends.

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