The University of Oregon signed one of the best inside linebacker prospects in all of the 2017 recruiting cycle: Sampson Niu from San Diego, CA. The three-year starter for Madison High School grew up idolizing San Diego Chargers great Junior Seau. In fact, Sampson’s dad Sai played with Seau at Oceanside High School, before his own stint as a linebacker at San Diego State.
Sampson, a three-star prospect by ESPN.com and a Rivals.com four-star linebacker, played in the 2017 U.S. Army All-American Bowl last January. Although he was a starter at linebacker for three varsity years, he was chosen to be in the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Football’s first team.
According to Cal-Hi Sports.com, the selection was based on a very productive senior season in which he posted 160 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and one interception in 15 games, according to MaxPreps.com.
Sampson Niu has been listed by various media sources as between 6 feet to 6 feet 1 inches tall and 200 to 217 pounds. The recruiting website ESPN.com lists him as 6 feet tall and 210 pounds. Meanwhile, Andrew Nemec of The Oregonian lists him as a 6-foot-one and 217-pound linebacker.
I have not seen any information on Niu’s hand size or arm length, but based on similarly sized athletes, I would estimate that his hand size is 8 3/4 to 9 1/4 inches. And with a 6-foot-one frame, his arm length could be 30 to 32 inches long.
Despite having a recorded 40-yard dash speed, I have not seen any evidence that this time came from any officially sanctioned camps. But based on the tapes I have seen, he appears to have excellent speed to play the position.
Sampson Niu checks all of the boxes. He plays with a wide base, scrapes and slides down the line of scrimmage to square up in the hole, and doesn’t overrun his lane responsibilities. But first and foremost, he has excellent tackling technique by going low at the runner’s legs and wrapping up.
Sampson shows great tackling technique in the video above. He squares up in the hole, keeps his head up, and wraps up his opponent around the legs. This is textbook tackling between the tackles.
In the video above, Niu again is filling the hole and making the tackle. Note how low he gets when he wraps up. He is not a “bear hugger,” which involves tackling opponents around the shoulders or mid-section.
Sampson Niu attacks the line of scrimmage. In the video above, you see him blow up the play with an inside blitz up the middle.
Niu demonstrates great instincts in the video above. After a burst through the line, he recognizes the screen pass. He cuts it off before sacking the quarterback who makes a poor decision after his primary target is taken away. Blowing up a screen pass is evidence of a high football I.Q.
Niu anticipates the cut off angles very well. In the video above, he beats the ballcarrier (and his blockers) to the perimeter, setting the edge to turn the play back in and make the tackle himself.
Who He Reminds Me Of…
Jon Beason — taken No. 25 overall in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft out of Miami. After a successful eight-year career with the Carolina Panthers and the New York Giants, Beason retired from the NFL in 2016.
Sampson Niu is an intimidating presence at the line of scrimmage. He is physical, aggressive and athletic. He possesses excellent lateral quickness, and he is clearly a sideline-to-sideline guy. He is aware of everything going on around him on the football field — a must for a middle linebacker.
He has been so well-coached from an early age by his dad (who was a Division One linebacker in college), that his football I.Q. appears about five years above the kids he’s playing against.
Niu is a little undersized to play the middle right now, but he may very well get his start on the perimeter. And when he grows into his frame, he might move into the middle later in his collegiate career. Niu should see the field early in his career at Oregon and definitely has an NFL future.
Michael Kelly “Chico Duck”
Top Photo: Southern California Sports Insider