More often than not during draft season, we become enamored by players that can do something electric with the football in their hands. I’m the opposite. I love the battle in the trenches; it’s where the game is won. It’s how the game of inches gets decided. When you look at the tight end position, there are so many players that we like because of their ability to play in the slot and catch passes but not as many who are admired for their blocking.
In the 2019 NFL Draft, there’s a tight end that plays the position incredibly well in the trenches. That player is Drew Sample. He didn’t light up the stat sheet at Washington, but he created plenty of openings for Myles Gaskin to scamper through. In a few days, he’ll be participating in the 2019 Senior Bowl and will look to solidify his draft stock in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Before playing for the Huskies, he was a three-star recruit from Newport High School. He had offers to play for Air Force, Boise State, and others but opted to play for Washington instead. Again, his stat sheet won’t wow you, but when you look at the film, he shows some intriguing traits as a pass-catcher but certainly stands out with what he does as a blocker.
If anyone tells you that blocking doesn’t matter, tell them to delete their account. Without the blocks from wide receivers on the outside and tight ends getting to the second level, positive runs don’t happen. We all know this, but believe it or not, sometimes the point has to be reiterated because there isn’t some flashy play being done by a skilled position player.
Believe it or not, Drew Sample is listed at 6’5″ and 259 pounds. I was shocked to read this because he doesn’t look like it on tape, but he certainly plays like it. On the play above, you can see Cade Otton (TE 87) come in motion and align offset to Sample. As the right side of the line blocks down, Otton hits the edge rusher (EDGE 34) in the hip and gets him in position for Sample to finish the block. As you can see, he gets his right hand underneath the armpit of the edge rusher and puts him into the dirt. This isn’t perfect, but this is just the start of it.
On the play above, you can see reach blocks, and Sample does a great job clearing out the defensive end that’s aligned head up on him. I’m not sure why Myles Gaskin tries to bounce this to the outside and doesn’t hit the opening, but regardless, great job by Sample. He creates the opening necessary for positive yardage, but the running back doesn’t hit the opening properly.
Maybe those two blocks didn’t excite you like they did me. Okay, that’s fair. How about some crack blocks? On the play above, you can see Drew Sample aligned at the bottom of the screen and then get motioned towards the line of scrimmage. He executes this crack block perfectly, and it’s a great example of how aggressive this kid plays. Whether it’s in space or in-line, he’s bringing some aggression that other tight ends in this class don’t bring.
Great angles to the second level
As crucial as it is to win at the LOS, it’s just as important to win at the second level. Taking out linebackers and defensive backs is as crucial to gaining additional yardage as it is sealing off defensive linemen. Drew Sample wins as a blocker in a lot of ways, and getting to the second level with good angles is one of them.
This is one of my favorite blocks I’ve seen from him. As you can see, Sample helps the right tackle with an aggressive punch to the hip of the defensive tackle. Once he makes contact, he quickly peels off and hits the second level with a good angle. He gets the linebacker (LB 27) and makes contact. Meanwhile, he keeps his feet churning and finishes the block by putting the linebacker in the dirt. What’s so impressive is how fast he catches the linebacker. Eye progressions are just as important for tight ends when blocking as it is for offensive linemen. Sample puts it all on display during that rep against Stanford.
Above is another great example of Sample taking a good angle and sealing off the linebacker at the second level. This creates a huge opening for the running back to gain more yardage after running through the initial tackler. When you look at the block, look at how square Sample is. He maintains low pad level and separation while locking out the linebacker with his hands inside. This is a terrific example of what he provides as a blocker.
He has the tools to catch passes
I love seeing the blocks Drew Sample executes at a high level, but what does he do when running routes and catching passes? He’s not as polished as Noah Fant from Iowa, but he has the tools to work with and should provide an NFL team with some type of volume in the passing game. This past season, he only had 25 receptions for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
With how often Sample is used as a blocker, it’s important to see how he’s utilized when it comes to “check releasing”. The play above is him executing a check release and then getting open for a pass that the quarterback can check down to if all his other reads are covered. He does hold his block for a second too long, but as he gets open, the quarterback (Jake Browning) finds him; Sample does the rest.
One of the more common routes you’ll see Sample run is an in route. He has a clean release off the line and breaks in toward the middle of the field after going about 10 yards up the field. Again, he doesn’t do this often and isn’t as polished as other players in this class, but this is a promising sign for his development.
Drew Sample 👀 pic.twitter.com/56EdyueyZ5
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) January 12, 2019
This week, Drew Sample will be participating in the 2019 Senior Bowl. He’ll be competing against some other quality tight ends, such as Tommy Sweeney from Boston College and Josh Oliver from San Jose State. There’s no question that he’s going to be one of the better blockers, if not the best blocker in this group.
As for pass catchers, he’ll have to really show what he can do this week. It wouldn’t be surprising if Josh Oliver solidified himself as that tight end, though. This week will be pivotal for Drew Sample and his draft stock for the 2019 NFL Draft. As I’ve said, he’s a great run blocker and has the tools to succeed in the passing game.
He looks limited as an athlete, but with a good showing during the draft process (Senior Bowl, Scouting Combine and Pro Day), he should solidify his spot as a day three pick. There’s a chance that he rises into late day two consideration, but it really depends on how the run on tight ends goes. During the 2006 NFL Draft, we saw nine tight ends taken in the top 100 selections. We could very well see that this year, and Drew Sample is certainly a player we could see climb up draft boards when it’s all said and done.