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Drew Sample tabbed as 2021 breakout candidate for Bengals

Will Sample’s third season be his best in Cincinnati? One analyst thinks so.

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Dallas Cowboys v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The strength of the Cincinnati Bengals is their passing game. In today’s NFL, that’s the best strength a team could have, but it still needs to get better.

For Joe Burrow’s second season at quarterback, tight end Drew Sample will need to continue progressing. The former second-round pick will enter his third year in the league next season, and the Bengals would benefit greatly from the tight end hitting his stride as a receiving threat.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus thinks Sample is the under-the-radar player to break out in Cincinnati in 2021.

For the purposes of this piece, let’s stipulate that both Joe Burrow and his wide receiver Tee Higgins have already broken out, which makes finding candidates for the Bengals tricky.

Sample played extensively in his second season, and you’d be stretching the truth to say there was much there to suggest he would dominate in Year 3. Still, he was solid as a blocker at the very least, which should at least continue to earn him playing time, and as a former second-round pick, there should be something there. His career is only 976 snaps old, and while you would like to see more than 400 yards from those snaps, he did break six tackles and generate more than five yards per reception after the catch in 2020.

Sample’s production from 2020 was mainly due to C.J. Uzomah injuring his Achilles all the way back in Week 2. With their starting tight end out for the year, Sample started at tight end from then on and had a few decent outings to boot. But there is definitely room for the 24-year old to grow as a pass-catcher.

As Monson points out, Sample is already a capable blocker, as it was his best trait coming out of Washington in 2019. But he has never been a true receiving threat at the position. Even with over 400 receiving snaps last season, Sample was ninth on the team in yards/reception and 12th in yards per route run, per PFF. Not ideal for a guy who started 13 games for the season.

With Uzomah set to return for the last year of his contract, Sample may not get the targets he needs to truly break out, but it wouldn’t hurt to see him grow into a more dependable option as he enters what should be the prime of his career.