Missouri pass-rusher Michael Sam fell flat with all eyes on him at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he managed to bounce back with a strong showing at Mizzou's pro day on Thursday.
When will Michael Sam be selected in the 2014 NFL draft?
The fact that Sam was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year automatically makes him a high-profile prospect, and that was taken to an even higher level when he announced that he is gay.
Sam naturally faces increased media coverage and scrutiny as he attempts to become the first openly gay player in NFL history; however, he has plenty of obstacles to overcome from an on-field perspective as well.
He didn't test particularly well at the combine and he is arguably too small to play defensive end in the NFL, but he seemed to answer some questions on Thursday.
Players generally seem to have a higher comfort level at their pro days since they are familiar with their surroundings, and that appeared to be the case for Sam as well. Prior to his pro day, Sam had a letter published in the Columbia Missourian in which he thanked the University of Missouri and its fans:
From my first recruiting trip to the University of Missouri, I felt something extraordinary and special — something I didn't feel anyplace else. I didn't have a name for it then; I do now. It's called family. And to me that family is defined by unconditional love.
There isn't much that Sam can do about his size at this point. He once again measured in at 6'2", but he supplemented that with a solid 263-pound frame, according to Albert Breer of NFL.com:
Sam comes in at 6-foot-2 and 263 pounds, 81.25 wingspan. Kony Ealy was 6-4 and 265 pounds.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 20, 2014
That means he is now two pounds heavier than he was at the combine, per NFL.com. He may still have some work to do in terms of refining his body for the NFL, but he seems to be moving in the right direction.
Although there weren't a ton of recognizable faces in attendance as far as NFL talent evaluators are concerned, all 32 NFL teams had someone in Columbia, Mo., to watch Sam and his teammates, per Breer:
Eagles' Chip Kelly is the only head coach I've seen so far at Mizzou Pro Day. But all 32 teams are said to be represented.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 20, 2014
Perhaps nothing represents the hype surrounding Sam's pro day better than this photo of the scene during his bench press, courtesy of NFL agent Joe Barkett:
Even with all of the pressure on Sam's shoulders, he still managed to come through with about as good of a performance as he could have hoped for on the bench press especially.
Sam lifted 225 pounds 19 times, which Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel announced is Sam's personal best:
#MizzouMade DL Michael Sam hits 19 reps on 225 bench press - ties his PR. GP— Coach Gary Pinkel (@mizzoufootball) March 20, 2014
Even more important than that, though, is the fact that he was able to improve upon the number that he posted at the combine, which Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out:
Michael sam did 19 reps in the bench press, or 2 more than at combine.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) March 20, 2014
The bench press improvement was definitely a big deal for Sam's confidence, but the true test came during the 40-yard dash. Due to the fact that Sam is on the smaller side, his performance in speed and agility drills is absolutely huge in relation to his draft status.
Sam's 40 time was a major disappointment at the combine, and there was essentially nowhere for him to go but up. He didn't exactly set the world on fire at the Mizzou pro day, but it was definitely a much better result for him, according to T.J. Fenske of KRCG-13:
Michael Sam runs 4.72 40-yard dash on first run. Sam ran a 4.91 at the NFL Combine— T.J. Fenske (@TJFenskeKRCG) March 20, 2014
Improving by nearly two-tenths of a second was Sam's biggest triumph of the day, but there was also some frustration involved due to the fact that he could have run even better.
Per Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports 1, Sam appeared to injure his hamstring during his first run, which led to him opting against running a second time:
No second 40 for Michael Sam. They announced it as "choice," though he seems to be having a hammy issue.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 20, 2014
According to KTGR 100.5 FM in Columbia, Mo., however, Sam downplayed the hamstring issue:
Michael Sam: "I didn't pull it, it's tight," went looking for a heating pad #Mizzou— KTGR BigShow (@KTGRBigShow) March 20, 2014
He was also extremely unhappy about what he might have perceived as a squandered opportunity:
Michael Sam says "I'm pissed" ran a 4.72 40 and tweeked something at the end of his run pic.twitter.com/3nspK8mQyd— KTGR BigShow (@KTGRBigShow) March 20, 2014
There was some concern following his 40-yard dash regarding whether he would be able to continue with additional workouts. While he refrained from doing some of the drills, Sam decided to soldier on by jumping and doing the linebacker positional workout:
Michael Sam will try to do the vertical and broad jump and the LB drills. Won't do other drills that could aggravate his hammy.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 20, 2014
Even though he was somewhat compromised by his hamstring, Sam continued the trend of the day by bettering his combine results yet again.
He had a vertical jump of just 25.5 inches in Indianapolis, per NFL.com, which was considered awful for someone his size. Defensive ends and linebackers generally don't have to jump that often, but Sam still wanted to prove that he had more athleticism than he displayed at the combine.
He did precisely that by jumping five inches higher at Missouri's pro day than he did in Indy, according to Gabe DeArmond of Rivals.com:
Kony Ealy a ten foot even standing broad jump and 32 inch vertical. Michael Sam 30.5 vertical— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) March 20, 2014
After the vertical jump, Sam attempted to impress scouts by taking part in some linebacker drills. Even though he wasn't 100 percent, he showed some impressive burst and explosion.
As seen in this vine courtesy of Erik Hall of NewsHallOnline.com, Sam looked fluid while running through a swim drill:
He also showed off his agility and ability to change directions, which will come in handy if he plays linebacker at the next level:
Sam didn't do anything earth-shattering on Thursday, but he did enough to put the combine behind him and solidify his status as a mid-round pick. There were some rumblings about him potentially going undrafted after the combine, but it's tough to imagine that being the case now.
He was a dominant force in the SEC this past season, and that didn't happen by accident. Any player who can pile up 11.5 sacks in the nation's best conference clearly deserves plenty of draft consideration.
It remains to be seen what type of role Sam can play in the NFL, but he should at least receive the opportunity to prove himself after acquitted himself well at Missouri's pro day.
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