Sam LaPorta

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

To put it bluntly, tight end Sam LaPorta is the most valuable player returning to the Hawkeyes’ roster in 2022. Aside from Rimington Trophy-winning center Tyler Linderbaum, LaPorta was the lone player the Hawkeyes could rely on, offensively.

Linderbaum declared for the 2022 NFL Draft on Jan. 14. LaPorta announced that he’d be returning to Iowa Jan. 12.

With two somewhat inept quarterbacks hurling the ball his way this season in sophomore Alex Padilla and junior Spencer Petras, LaPorta still managed to haul in 53 of the 220 passes the Hawkeyes attempted in 2021. LaPorta netted 670 yards and three touchdowns across his 53 receptions.

LaPorta was easily Iowa’s biggest threat in the passing game last year. The 6-foot-4, 249-pound now-senior led the Hawkeyes in receiving yards and touchdowns.

Wide receiver Charlie Jones, who announced he’d be returning to Iowa for the 2022 season on Jan. 13, actually tied LaPorta for the team lead in receiving touchdowns. From a yardage standpoint, LaPorta bested the Hawkeyes’ second-leading receiver by more 300 yards, as now-sophomore Keagan Johnson picked up 352 yards last season.

Iowa’s passing offense ranked 10th in the 14-team Big Ten Conference last year. On a national level, the Hawkeyes’ passing attack ranked 109th. There are only 130 FBS teams in the nation.

Without LaPorta, the Hawkeyes’ passing game might go from bad to worse. And there’s not much standing between Iowa and the bottom of the NCAA’s passing statistics list.

The effects a LaPorta departure would have on Iowa’s offense are catastrophic. Hawkeye fans should be thankful No. 84 is coming back for another season. Otherwise, Iowa’s 2022 campaign could’ve been a disaster.

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