When the Cincinnati Bengals announced they were taking Drew Sample with their second-round pick a few months ago, fans scratched their heads. Opinions varied about the player, with the consensus being that the team didn’t get great value with the selection.
Fan frustration quickly began to dissipate with glowing minicamp reports on Sample. With certain issues hitting the offensive unit and health concerns continuing to swirl around the tight end group, Sample might suddenly be thrust into a high-profile role with a lot of different responsibilities.
Why he could break out in 2019
It’s no secret that the Bengals’ offensive line has been a shambles since the 2017 departures of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Since those personnel losses, Cincinnati has made a number of high-profile maneuvers to rectify the issues that have popped up since their two stalwarts left in free agency.
Some of them have panned out, while others are in the “to be determined” category, but the losses of both Jonah Williams and Clint Boling this offseason have created a bit of chaos along the unit. This is an area in which Sample may contribute.
Now, he’s not going to be a lineman, of course, but given Sample’s versatility and willingness to block, he could assist as a “chipper”, or in an H-Back role to aid the running game. It’s possible that Sample plays a Ryan Hewitt-type role, except being properly used, unlike the former Bengals veteran.
Additionally, Sample wowed everyone in minicamps with his hands and ability to catch everything thrown his way. While many fans griped about the team using a second-round pick on a low-production tight end, it’s very possible that his ceiling isn’t even close to being reached and what was seen on his college tape was just scratching the surface.
Really though, the main reason for Sample’s potential rise to prominence is in his versatility. He could be a Swiss Army Knife of a player, who could become a welcomed security blanket for Andy Dalton. Sample could also become a valued member of the offense quickly, given the amount of injuries that seems to annually hit the tight end group.
What he needs to prove this year
The first thing Sample will need to prove is that he is a far superior player than what his college stat lines would show. As a guy Zac Taylor really liked and supposedly wants to use in his new high-flying offense, Sample was a guy who only had five touchdown catches in his four-year NCAA career, while also never surpassing 25 catches or 252 yards in a single season with the Huskies.
Scouts and fans could point to the fact that he may be a limited player, who has difficulties getting separation. Or, it could be that his college quarterback, Jake Browning, was obsessed with feeding the ball to wide receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis, while also regressing as a passer in recent seasons.
More than anything though, Sample will need to remain healthy. The tight end group was hit with major injuries last year, ranging from I.R stints for Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft and Mason Schreck, to C.J. Uzomah being dinged up throughout the year.
Call it unwarranted confidence, but if Sample can stay healthy, we’ll see good things come from him. Between his own versatility and Taylor’s potential creativity, Sample could be a heavy feature in the 2019 Bengals offense—particularly early in the season.
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