I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.
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James Sample, S, Louisville - 6'1, 209 - Senior - 4.56 40
Every player takes a different path to the NFL Draft. Many, as we have detailed in this space, are 4-star recruits who have many schools attempting to convince the player to come play with them, and then 3 years later he is ready to make money playing football as a spotless and highly-touted player.
Others are on a more circuitous route. Take James Sample who was highly recruited by many Pac-12 schools out of high school, went to Washington where he spent most of his 2 years injured, then attended a year at a Junior College known as "American River College", before playing 1 season at Louisville - next to the safety that led the nation in interceptions (Gerod Holliman) and replacing another safety who had been taken in the 1st round by the New York Jets (Calvin Pryor).
But, that is Sample's story, and with 90 tackles, 4 interceptions, and a lot of moments where he impressed observers when they were originally there to watch Holliman play, we examined his work against Virginia, Boston College, Kentucky, and Florida State to see just how good he is.
Sample wears #2 for the Cardinals:
What I liked: Sample is a safety with many desirable attributes including really impressive range, a thirst to tackle anything that is wearing the other team's colors, and plenty of thump to actually deliver on his intentions. He is a player who has very good size for his position and is able to patrol the secondary in the way you would hope - a style that puts doubt in receivers that run through his space. He is a tackling machine and in the Sample versus Holliman debates, it has been pointed out a time or two that he can be spotted running past his safety partner to make a stop. He is pretty impressive in coverage as well when asked to run man-to-man with a tight end or a wide out. He has the skills to offer 2-deep range over the top.
What I did not like: He looks like he could use a bit more technique and coaching on his reads and his evaluations of what quarterbacks are trying to do to manipulate his position on the field. They all have tricks and occasionally, Sample is falling for the college QB tricks, so you can believe that veteran NFL QBs would see him in the secondary and try to move him with their eyes or shoulders to open up passing lanes. This is normal, but something to consider. Also, I think he may not be the type to slide right in as a single-high free safety candidate as his hips may not be ideal for that type of job. Sometimes, he is going for the KO and needs to just wrap up on tackles. But, otherwise, he is really an impressive gem that has been found in his short time at Louisville.
Summary: Sample checks all of the boxes with regards to being a player with really nice potential that could be a special teams stud early and then move up your depth chart quickly in "big nickel" or at strong safety. I might want to go slowly if we need a free safety, but if there is one thing that Sample will do, it is go after players and bring them down. When starting deep and seeing a play in front of him, he has fantastic skills to get the angle right, fight through traffic, and get the ball carrier to the ground. This, the idea of ending plays, is the most important objective of any safety and he does it very well on a consistent basis. I think he is absolutely the type of back-end talent that you target in the Top 100.
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