JAMES SAMPLE- 6’2, 191- RS JR.
There’s been a lot of talk about how lacking in depth the 2015 NFL Draft quarterback class is, as there are really only two quarterbacks that have any chance of being taken in the first round, and just a few who are deserving of a pick before the late rounds. A position group that might be even worse than that and hasn’t received the same amount of attention, though, is the safeties, where there is only one first-round-worthy safety in Alabama’s Landon Collins.
One of the safeties making a bid to be one of the second-day picks is Louisville’s James Sample. Sample has a very brief body of work, as he started his career at the University of Washington, but struggled to find playing time and dealt with injuries, which ultimately caused him to transfer to junior college for the 2013 season.
After Louisville lost its two starting safeties, Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith, they plugged in redshirt sophomore Gerod Holliman and recruited Sample to fill the vacancies. In an interesting turn of events, both Holliman and Sample also ended up becoming early declarants for the draft after one season as starters.
Sample played the strong safety position in 2014 and did a very good job of it, leading the team in tackles and consistently showing a great ability to move all across the field and pursue the ballcarrier. Considering his size and athleticism, he may be a better fit at the free safety spot. Sample would be a very good fit in a defense where the safety spots are more-or-less interchangeable, as he would be able to take advantage of his superior range and tackling skills without having an overwhelming amount of responsibility in coverage.
Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be likely for a player who started for just one season without setting the world on fire to garner consideration as a Top-50 pick. However, with the alarming lack of safety depth behind Collins in this year’s draft, it’s very possible that Sample could be the second safety off the board.
POSITIVES: very aggressive in pursuit…good short-burst speed…quick sideline-to-sideline movement…very rangy, does a great job of moving around the field…pretty disciplined with his field positioning, doesn’t get overaggressive and give up ground…disciplined in taking angles, can quickly recognize if the ballcarrier is going to change their route, and he adjusts his path accordingly…capable of contributing in the box as a blitzer…could grow into a nice, physical build with a good strength and conditioning program.
NEGATIVES: could stand to add some weight…tackling form is questionable, has a tendency to throw his shoulders into defenders rather than wrapping them up and using his midsection…rather untested in coverage, usually was given coverage responsibility for tight ends who were not thrown to…was a one-year wonder at Louisville after leaving Washington and spending time in junior college.
2014 Summary: Sample certainly made a strong impression in his first—and only—season in Louisville’s program, leading the team with 90 total tackles. While Sample didn’t quite showcase the playmaking ability of his fellow starting safety, Gerod Holliman, who had 14 interceptions, Sample still was able to come up with a rather impressive four picks. He also contributed 12 passes defended and eight breakups. Sample picked up double-digit tackles on four different occasions, achieving his season-high when he recorded 15 tackles against Florida State on October 30.
Talent Grade: Mid-Late Second Round
Rams Role: The Rams aren’t necessarily in need of a safety, as starters Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald performed well during 2014, while Maurice Alexander is a nice developmental prospect, Cody Davis is an impactful special-teamer, and Mark Barron completes the group as an aggressive jack-of-all-trades.
There has been a desire voiced by some to upgrade over McLeod at the free safety position with more of a playmaker, though Sample wouldn’t really fill that need. If the Rams were to end up with Sample, he’d likely start off a special teams contributor and have to work his way up the depth chart before receiving playing time from scrimmage.
Film Watched: vs. Florida State (2014), vs. Georgia (2014), vs. Miami (2014), vs. Virginia (2014), vs. Boston College (2014)