Michael Sam may have been the SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Missouri this past college football season, but there were concerns about how his skill set would translate to the pros. At the NFL Scouting Combine this past weekend in Indianapolis, he had an opportunity to dismiss those.
Consider it an opportunity missed, because Sam did not wow scouts with anything he did during his workout at Lucas Oil Stadium.
|Height||Weight||Arm length||Hand size||40-yard dash||Bench press||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||3-Cone Drill|
|6'2"||261 lbs||33 3/8"||9 3/8"||4.91 seconds||17||25 1/2"||114"||7.80 seconds|
Some players can overcome any lack of physical gifts or raw talent and thrive in the league. That molds many undrafted free agents and practice squad stalwarts into monumental men, ever eager to prove themselves on the gridiron. The chips on their shoulders grow to boulders, their determination to succeed shines through and in a myriad of instances, they've achieved greatness.
Look no further than your current Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, headlined by lockdown cornerback Richard Sherman and diminutive quarterback Russell Wilson. The former was a fifth-round pick out of Stanford in 2011; Wilson, a third-rounder in 2012. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin led Seattle with five receptions and 66 yards, including a late touchdown in the team's 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos to capture the Lombardi Trophy. Baldwin went undrafted by all 32 NFL teams two years ago.
How do you like them now?
This is why it's dangerous to overreact to any numbers posted at the combine. Some players who aren't even invited turn into raging success stories. Sam at least got an invitation to Indianapolis, but he didn't exactly make the most of it on the field.
Former NFL general manager and Senior Bowl director Phil Savage put it best in his assessment. Savage acknowledged that Sam's combine wasn't a total disappointment since he showed a bit better athleticism:
Michael Sam/Mizzou 6020/261 ran 4.88/4.91 on my clock. Has athletic tightness as OLB, but looked better than @seniorbowl. 4-down value is ?— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) February 24, 2014
To be fair, though, Sam is dealing with a lot more scrutiny and spotlight than the average prospect, leading him to say this in his massive press conference with the media, per CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora:
Sam: "I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam, the football player, instead of Michael Sam, the gay football player."— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) February 22, 2014
Where should Michael Sam be drafted?
It's a lot for a 24-year-old to handle, but Sam has done so with grace and class—even if he tried to dodge questions about non-football issues. By many accounts, that isn't what concerns scouts about Sam—it's what he did on the field that should draw skepticism.
With an unimpressive 40-yard dash time, just 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, a low vertical leap and a 7.80-second time in the three-cone drill, it looks like Sam is a mid-round prospect at best.
No, it doesn't take into account his character. Nor his collegiate production. Nor his landmark announcement that he is gay and how that may have impacted him in Indianapolis.
Draft analyst Joe Everett wasn't buying the hype surrounding Sam even with his 48 total tackles (19 for loss) and 11.5 sacks as a senior for the Tigers:
#Missouri OLB Michael Sam is at the podium and the entire media room is surrounding him. I'm just not that excited about 4th/5th rounders.— Joe Everett (@RookieDraft) February 22, 2014
This isn't about what Sam did against admittedly strong SEC competition. The point of the combine is to better distinguish whether or not a college standout can cut it in the NFL. Based purely on what was witnessed in Indianapolis, Sam should be skidding down draft boards with his lackluster numbers.
Does that mean his NFL career has no hope? Absolutely not. Sam has all the intangibles, a keen sense of how to play the defensive end position and plenty of game tape to suggest he can get the job done.
Whether or not front offices view it that way is an entirely different matter. Even when a team does call his name in May, it won't be determined for quite some time if Sam is a viable NFL player. All there is to do is wait, and for Sam—barring a marked on-field improvement at his pro day—should see his draft status slip.