The Jets signed Saquan Hampton to their practice squad last season, then activated him to the active roster only for him to suffer a season-ending injury. However, he remains under contract for 2021. Today we’re going to take an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.
The 25-year old is listed at 6’1” and 206 pounds and was a sixth round pick out of Rutgers in 2019. He has played in six NFL games, recording one tackle.
Hampton was a three-star recruit out of high school, where he played as a defensive back and returned kicks and punts. He opted to attend Rutgers, redshirting his first season in 2014.
As a redshirt freshman, Hampton saw action on special teams and as a reserve safety. He started one game and racked up 23 tackes, two passes defensed, a tackle for loss and an interception.
In 2016, Hampton became a full-time starter but he missed nine games due to injuries over the next two years. Across the two seasons, he amassed 80 tackles, three tackles for loss, an interception and five passes defensed.
Finally, in his redshirt season, he stayed healthy all year and earned an all-Big Ten honorable mention. He ended up with career highs in tackles (64), passes defensed (13) and interceptions (three).
The Saints drafted Hampton in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, but he was on the inactive list for most of the season. In the end, he made five appearances, seeing action on defense in two games. He recorded one tackle but then went on injured reserve with a few weeks left in the season.
In 2020, Hampton was waived/injured during final cuts and then later released from injured reserve. The Jets signed him to their practice squad and then activated him ahead of the Seattle game, only for him to suffer a season-ending injury while working on special teams.
Let’s move onto some more detailed analysis of what Hampton brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Hampton has decent size and is a rangy athlete who ran a 4.48 at the 2019 combine. He also showed off his explosiveness with a 125-inch broad jump and posted 14 bench press reps, but didn’t do a full workout.
He later posted reasonably good agility numbers and a solid 36.5-inch vertical at his pro day workout.
In high school, Hampton was a cornerback and played a versatile role in college, seeing action at both safety positions with plenty of reps in the box, matched up in the slot or up at the line of scrimmage. He’s also been used in a variety of ways in NFL preseason and regular season action.
With his prior experience as a cornerback, Hampton has some good coverage skills and posted excellent numbers as his direct coverage assignments increased in frequency over the course of his career. He allowed a catch on less than half of his targets in each of his last two seasons.
His closing speed is evident and he’s displayed that in jumping routes and limiting yardage on short passes.
When playing deep, Hampton displays good range and can come up well in coverage support to make plays.
At the NFL level he didn’t quite drop far enough into the passing lane to prevent this third down conversion.
Hampton has shown a good ability to make plays on the ball, highlighted in 2018 when he was third in the Big Ten in pass breakups. He has good timing, awareness and closing speed and locates the ball early.
While he was with the Saints, the coaching staff praised his ability to make plays in the secondary and, despite the fact that he has small hands, defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn said he was impressed with his ability to come down with the ball after he had three interceptions in the early weeks of his first training camp. He shows those abilities here.
In all, he had five interceptions in college, including three in his final season.
Hampton is regarded as a good hitter, especially in coverage, displaying those abilities on plays like this.
However, scouting reports indicate he’s less consistent in terms of his physicality in the running game, playing more tentatively and with less aggression. That could be because he’s focused on being more conservative in terms of gap discipline and maintaining contain, though.
Hampton didn’t have major issues with penalties for much of his college career, with just one in the first three seasons. However, as he was exposed to more direct coverage assignments in his final season, he was called for four penalties.
He also had this pass interference penalty in regular season action at the NFL level. He was in pretty good position but allowed the receiver to use his size to keep him on his hip and prevent him from regaining inside leverage.
Hampton was a productive tackler in college and has good range and closing speed in pursuit along with a willingness to join in on a gang tackle. He also usually takes good angles.
However, there were times when he was dragged by a defender for extra yardage at the end of a run and he displayed sloppy and reckless technique at times, leading to him averaging over one missed tackle per start in college.
As noted, run defense is an area where Hampton needed to improve on his physicality but he does show an eagerness to contribute in run support. He’s at his best when he can stay away from blockers and read and close on a defender in space.
Hampton has hardly ever had a chance to blitz and never had a sack at the college or NFL level, although he did have a couple of hurries in his redshirt freshman season.
Rutgers lacked depth while Hampton was there, forcing him to contribute on multiple special teams units. This experience can only benefit his chances of making an NFL roster.
Hampton already saw brief action with the Jets in the Seattle game last season. He (wearing #29 here) combined well with Bryce Huff to drive his man to the ground and help spring Corey Ballentine for his longest return of the season.
In kick coverage, he had a few special teams tackles in college, but didn’t contribute much. At the NFL level, his missed tackle on Cordarrelle Patterson led to a touchdown.
Hampton has also seen action as a vice on the punt return unit and played a few snaps as a punt gunner earlier on in his college career.
He had some return experience in high school, averaging 38 yards per kickoff return and 13 per punt return, bringing one of each back for a score. At the college level, his only return was a four-yard punt return, though. He also had a punt rebound off him while blocking a gunner, leading to a turnover.
Hampton was described as smart and intelligent by his coaches in New Orleans and did a good job of learning the system and building on the solid play recognition he had displayed in college.
He has shown a good ability to read screen passes and perimeter runs, then avoid blockers to make the play.
Other than the muffed punt, Hampton’s awareness was good and he didn’t seem to have any obvious blown assignments at safety.
Saints coaches also praised Hampton for his work ethic, toughness and tenacity and he was regarded as a leader in college, where he was also voted as a team captain in 2018.
Hampton doesn’t appear to have any off-field issues or potential red flags in his past.
Hampton faces an uphill climb to be ready for training camp after rupturing his Achilles in the Jets’ loss to Seattle. However, this isn’t the first time he’s had to deal with injury problems.
In college, Hampton suffered a shoulder injury in his redshirt junior year, causing him to miss five starts. Then, the following year, he injured the other shoulder, missing another four starts.
With the Saints, he was placed on injured reserve twice - once near the end of his rookie season and the other time following final cuts this September. The nature of each of these injuries was undisclosed.
It’s a shame Hampton got injured when he did because the Jets had a few injury problems at the time and he could have got some extensive playing time over the last month of the season.
His versatility gives him a shot at competing for playing time at either safety position or being a valuable reserve.
Hampton was a teammate of current Jets’ cornerback Blessuan Austin during his career at Rutgers.
Hampton’s durability was already a concern with teams before he was drafted and this clearly affected his draft stock. Matt Miller, then with Bleacher Report, had said that Hampton could be a top-60 pick if his medicals were clear. On top of those concerns, he now has to overcome a serious Achilles injury.
It’s clear that Hampton may therefore have some untapped potential, having played well in college and initially impressed the Saints’ coaching staff in camp.
This is a classic low risk-high reward move, but the Jets will in no way be relying on Hampton to be a contributor in 2021 and beyond. Hopefully, he can get healthy again to show what he can do.