JACKSONVILLE – The early part of Day 3 of the Jaguars' 2015 NFL Draft may be about depth.
It also could be about having found a versatile player who can play either free or strong safety, along with some special teams.
James Sample, a safety well-regarded by many draft analysts, early Saturday afternoon became the Jaguars' first selection on Day 3 of the 2015 NFL Draft when the team selected him in Round 4 with the No. 104 selection overall.
"I really think he's got a lot of upside," Jaguars Assistant Director of Player Personnel Andy Dengler said shortly after the selection.
The Jaguars swapped early fourth-round selections with the New York Jets, sending their No. 103 to the Jets for the No. 104 selection and the No. 229 selection in Round 7. They used No. 104 on Sample minutes after the trade.
"I felt like I was going to go early, and I'm just fired up," Sample said. "I'm ready to go. I feel like I can come in there and make an impact. I was just waiting for my name to get called. It didn't matter what Round. I just wanted the opportunity to come in play."
Many draft analysts lauded the selection, with Louis Riddick of ESPN tweeting that he loved the selection and adding that Sample is "likely to end up being the best safety in the draft."
Pro Football Focus rated Sample as the best coverage safety in the NCAA last season. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports.com and NFLDraftScout.com tweeted that he loved Sample and that the Jaguars "stole him" in Round 4.
Sample (6-feet-2, 209 pounds), a redshirt junior, played one season at Louisville, transferring there from American River Junior College. He played at the University of Washington originally out of high school.
He registered 90 tackles with four interceptions this past season.
"The whole body of work is good, and it would be or we wouldn't have taken him in the fourth round," Dengler said.
While Sample is listed as a strong safety, Dengler said the Jaguars believe he can play strong safety in the box and cover the field sideline to sideline as a free safety.
"It's a good combination to have," Dengler said. "We do think he can come in and play red-line to red-line, as our coaches describe it. He has very good range. He's an impressive player and a good tackler."
Jaguars defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker said Sample will begin with the Jaguars as a free safety, with Sergio Brown – acquired as an unrestricted free agent from Indianapolis early last month – starting the offseason in the starting free safety role.
"He'll be in the middle of the field quite a bit," Walker said. "Open-field tackling and having instincts to play the ball are very important in our system."
The Jaguars selected James Sample with their fourth round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Third-year veteran Johnathan Cyprien will start at strong safety, with Josh Evans – a sixth-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft – backing up both positions. Walker said Samples also has strong-safety traits.
"Out safeties are interchangeable, so he'll fit with the safeties we do have," Walker said. "It's going to be a pretty good competition across the board, especially at free safety.
Walker said he also expects Sample to be a core-four special teams player, meaning he will play on the kickoff and punt coverage and kickoff and punt return units.
"He's physical and aggressive, so he's exactly what you're looking for not only as a safety, but as a special teams player," Walker said.