Representatives from 31 of the NFL's 32 teams gathered at Missouri's pro day on Thursday, and while defensive end Kony Ealy may be the most highly sought-after prospect on the Tigers this year, battery mate Michael Sam once again was squarely in the spotlight.
This time, however, it had little to do with the firestorm of coverage off the field regarding Sam's announcement he is gay and everything to do with Sam trying to rehab his badly lagging draft stock.
It's not so much Sam's announcement that has his draft stock in free-fall, although there's been endless debate about its effect. No, it's more an issue of perceptions of Sam as a "tweener" reinforced by poor showings at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine.
Those showings left Sam with a lot on the line Thursday, and while things were better in Columbia than in Indianapolis, there are still more than a few questions surrounding Sam's viability in the NFL.
According to Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth, Sam weighed in a couple of pounds heavier than at the combine:
As agent Joe Barkett pointed out, there was an onlooker or two on hand when Sam began his afternoon on the bench press:
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweeted that Sam was able to improve on his paltry 17 reps of 225 pounds at the combine, albeit only slightly:
Michael sam did 19 reps in the bench press, or 2 more than at combine.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) March 20, 2014
Then it was on to the 40-yard-dash. Sam struggled mightily on the track at Lucas Oil Stadium, running a 4.91 that was among the slowest at the position.
|Bench Press||17 reps||19 reps|
|40-Yard Dash||4.91 seconds||4.69 seconds*|
* Unofficial time
As Mike Garafalo of Fox Sports reports, Sam improved on that number by quite a bit at his pro day:
Michael Sam right around 4.7. Much better than his combine number.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 20, 2014
Tony Pauline of Draft Insider concurred, although Pauline also relayed the caveat inherent to all pro days:
As with all pro-days times all over place...Missouri school official stating Michael Sam ran 4.69s...would expect official time around 4.78— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) March 20, 2014
Unfortunately, that 40-yard dash brought with it trouble for Sam:
Michael Sam pulled up limp after his first 40-yard dash. We'll see if he continues to work out.— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) March 20, 2014
It may well be that Sam realized how much was at stake, because as Garafalo tweeted, he decided to gut out most of the workouts, bad hamstring and all:
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
According to Albert Breer of NFL.com, that included bettering his vertical by nearly half a foot over his numbers at the combine:
Michael Sam's in position drills now, gutting it out with a balky hamstring. Posted 30-inch vertical, which is a 5-inch improvement on Indy.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 20, 2014
However, as Breer wrote, the position drills were where Sam really needed to shine:
Here's what one college scouting director said Michael Sam has to prove today: 'He needs to show good movement in LB drills -- Bend quickness and good feet and quickness in pass rush drills. Hopefully he is staying in good shape and not letting that go.'
In that regard Sam didn't really hurt himself, but the hamstring also prevented him from potentially putting on the show he so badly needed to at Missouri's pro day.
So, frankly, not that much has really changed, although Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal passed along word that a few teams must have seen something they liked from Sam Thursday:
Sam left Missouri's pro day just as he entered it, a third-day pick who was wildly productive last year in college but stuck between positions in the NFL. He's too small to play defensive end in the 4-3, but not quick enough to play outside linebacker in the 3-4.
That's the perception of Michael Sam, and it's that perception, much more so than Sam's sexuality, that's a danger to Sam's chances of being drafted on May 10.
Unfortunately, nothing that happened in Missouri on Thursday is going to change that perception.