James Sample is a very productive run support defender with the size and power base to deliver pop on contact. He is a tough player with good top end speed to close on plays in front of him (ran 4.56 in the 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine). He has the body control and proper pad level to string plays wide and enough agility to redirect and neutralize the cutback lanes. He shows no hesitation coming up to fill the rush lanes and shows good urgency making plays along the line.
His weakness is exposed in pass coverage. While he has a smooth backpedal, he is high in transition and has enough hip stiffness to cause him to struggle when trying to quickly turn and run on the ball. He plays deep in the zone, but spends a lot of time peeking into the backfield and lacks a good feel for handling the switch-off.
Sample shows decent pass/run keys and does a good job of reading the flow of the play. He has enough quickness to cover in the flat and uses his hands effectively to press and reroute vs. the tight end. He has the speed and range to make the open field tackle and does a good job of taking angles to close.
With his aggressive style of play vs. the run and developing frame, some team might look to bulk him up a bit and play him closer to the line as a Cover-2 linebacker. He will need to develop a better feel for pass coverage if he is to produce at safety, but with his speed and closing burst, he could bring immediate value as an inside-the-box slot player in sub packages.
The Cardinal is a fast-twitched athlete with a solid frame that shows good muscle development in the chest and arms, good bubble, calves and quadriceps. He plays with good balance and has the footwork to generate a quick change of direction motion. He’s not really a natural-hands guy or a ball-hawk like Gerod Holliman, but he can go up and time his leaps to compete for the ball at its high point.
Sample has better than adequate quickness to catch up and close on the ball. He’s a physical run force safety with the toughness to take on blocks and fill. He’s a better tackler in the open field, as he shows proper wrap-up technique and a good understanding for angles. He also does a nice job of working through traffic to locate the ball carrier, and he has the size and strength to split double teams.
What Sample does best is be an intimidator in the defensive backfield. He is an extremely physical hitter and a very aggressive tackler. He is not just a head-hunter however, as he tackles with good form and technique. The one main thing he needs to improve on is his pass coverage skills, specifically in terms of intercepting passes, he has to get his hands on more footballs to show he can not only make plays as a hitter, but also in pass coverage (five of his eight pass break-ups appeared to have been interceptions).
James Sample Scouting Combine measurables
6-2/209 (4.56 forty)
32-inch arm length
9 1/2-inch hands
32.5-inch vertical jump
123-inch broad jump
7.04 3 cone drill
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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