You could almost hear the collective outrage among Bengals fans and draft purists when Cincinnati selected tight end Drew Sample was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft. Many people didn’t expect the tight end to be drafted that early.
The draft is funny that way though. It is, quite simply, pure anarchy stretched across seven rounds. As much as we all try to predict or analyze how certain teams might behave, it ultimately proves to be fruitless year after year. You will often hear people say “you could have drafted him in x round,” but the truth is no one really knows when these guys will get drafted.
In the case of the Bengals selecting Sample, it could’ve turned out to be a case of teams loving a player more than the media. It could’ve also been a matter of the Bengals just coveting a player way more than everyone else.
Regardless, Mike Potts, the Bengals’ college scouting director, feels the like Cincinnati found a player who has yet to play his best football.
“Drew is a lot more well-rounded than just a run-blocking tight end,” Potts told Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Run blocking is the best thing that he does but what kept coming up in our draft meetings was do we want a guy that tested better that can take the top off the coverage or really stretch the seam and maybe you get two or three big plays a game out of that guy but you feel like you have to take him off the field in certain instances. We always talk about playtime percentages. Maybe that guy only ends up playing 30-40 percent of the snaps. Whereas, this guy, if you want to be in 11 or 12 personnel, whatever you want to be in, he conceivably doesn’t need to come off the field because he’s not a liability in the pass game.”
One of the common defenses you hear about Sample as a tight end by the people who believe he can be more than just a blocking tight end is that he was held back by poor quarterback play and the system at Washington. When you watch some of the tape there are certainly situations where that rings true.
Potts doesn’t just stand on that to help rationalize why Sample is so valuable to the Bengals going forward. The NFL is probably more of a chess game than every before — except unlike chess, the NFL is all about creating a situation where your pieces outmatch the opponents.
Simply put, being able to have Sample out there almost every snap will help keep defenses on their toes. What Potts is describing is having a guy at tight end who isn’t considered just a blocking or receiving tight end. Those players have limitations to how often they can be on the field.
Sample may never be a guy who is catching 80 passes a season along with 10+ touchdowns, but if he is able to take advantage of being mismatched by a defender as well as a great blocker, then they pick makes sense for this offense going forward.
Sample also fits perfectly into the ideal player new head coach Zac Taylor wants to bring into the team. A guy with great character and intelligence.
“These first two picks were two of the smarter guys if not the smartest at their respective positions... The way (Washington staff) rave about him and then you go and watch the tape and fall in love with him as a player,” Potts said. “You just envision how he could fit in here and bring something unique other guys don’t bring in our tight end room. He’s an easy player to like when you watch him on tape, then when the character and toughness and intelligence all match up with it, he pretty much checks every box you can think of other than if you are looking at the stat sheet. He didn’t have 50-60 catches. But not a lot of these guys do that are in-line tight ends coming out of college.”
Fantastic character is the common denominator when it comes to this draft class and it has set a precedent for the Zac Taylor era. It is also going to be great in a few years having a team full of helpful veterans ready to pass on the tradition of helping young players learn the ropes.
Odds are Potts’ words won’t shift your thoughts on the Sample pick. Sample’s play is probably the only thing that can do that. It is helpful having an idea of just how this team sees how he could develop over the next few seasons, though. Time will tell whether the Bengals outsmarted everyone or made fools of themselves for nothing.