Born in Newstead Colliery on 18 September 1892, Staples began his cricket with his local colliery team.

In 1918 and 1919 he played for Selston Desborough and was selected for a trial match at Trent Bridge. The form he showed in this match gave him a place on the Trent Bridge staff in 1920 and he made his first-class debut for Nottinghamshire v MCC at Lord's in May 1920.

His right-arm bowling was of slow-medium pace in the air but came quickly off the pitch and he broke the ball either way.

Staples was the last slow bowler to regularly open the Nottinghamshire attack, generally being paired with Fred Barratt. He secured a permanent place in the Nottinghamshire XI from the outset of his first-class career and obtained 100 wickets in the season for Nottinghamshire in 1925, 1926, 1927 and 1928. He was one of Wisden's 'Cricketers of the Year' in 1929, a season in which, all first-class matches, he also (just) reached 100 wickets. He headed the Nottinghamshire bowling averages only once, in 1933, taking 97 wickets at a cost of 24.62 runs each.

As a right handed batsman Staples had his days of success but never reached 1,000 runs in a season, his most noteworthy scores were 85* versus Derbyshire (Worksop) in 1922 adding 140 with Richmond for the 10th wicket, 110 versus Surrey (Oval) in 1923 and 73* against Glamorgan at Trent Bridge in 1927.

In 1923 he made his single appearance for Players v Gentlemen at The Oval but achieved little. In 1927/28 he was one of the MCC team to visit South Africa and played in the last three Test matches, finishing with 15 wickets at exactly 29.00.

In 1934 he was appointed assistant coach to Joe Iremonger, though he returned to the first team for one match as captain when Arthur Carr was unable to play.  Midway through 1938, he succeeded Jack Carlin as the Nottinghamshire scorer. In 1939 he was appointed coach to Hampshire CC and in 1949 was a first-class umpire. Ill health forced him to retire after one season.

His younger brother Arthur also played for Nottinghamshire; Sam Staples died in Nottingham on 4 June 1950.