Shock waves were sent through the media after Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player selected in the NFL draft, was picked by St. Louis in the seventh round. Despite the controversy that erupted following the televised celebratory kiss, the Rams made a smart move in adding Sam, who is sure to be an excellent addition to the team’s defensive line.
As a redshirt senior playing defensive end for the Missouri Tigers last season, Sam was recognized as a consensus All-American with an impressive 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.
While the Rams have one of the league’s most aggressive front seven, Sam’s talent on the field is undeniable. Even though he will have to put his nose to the grindstone to earn a starting position, if his time at Missouri is any indication of his future in the NFL, he will be able to earn his keep and help make an impact on the Rams’ defensive line.
Shortly after Sam was drafted, the Rams’ official Twitter account tweeted out this message on behalf of the team’s general manager, Les Snead:
Sam has had his share of skeptics questioning his abilities at the next level, but his college tape more than proves that he has a great deal of athletic talent as well as a strong grasp of the game. With some hard work and attentiveness to the coaching he receives, he should have no problem continuing to develop, and he should have an impact in the NFL.
In the above video, Sam demonstrates his ability to quickly get off the line and to the quarterback by beating the offensive tackle to the turn point.
Take a look at his film starting at 0:20 to see just how fast Sam truly is and how he used his speed last season to compile 11.5 sacks.
Russ Lande of SportsonEarth.com notes that he could use some extra weight to complement his speed, but that he has several attributes that can make him a great player for the Rams as he continues to develop.
Although Sam lacks great bulk, he proved on film that he can transfer from speed to power to jolt and drive the offensive tackle backwards into the quarterback's lap. When he came out of his initial rush to try to power rush, he did a good job of maintaining pad level and using his hands aggressively to jolt the blockers before they could get their hands on him.
Lande went on to say that though he definitely has many positive playing characteristics, he also needs to work on several areas in order to fit into the Rams’ defense. He mentions one key area in particular which he needs to master to make the team’s roster, as well as one area which could give him a leg up on his competition.
I have no doubt that Sam's ability to contribute rushing the passer will be the biggest determining factor in his long-term success in the NFL, but his smart and responsible play against the run and production on special teams will be vital as he competes for a roster spot.
The main factor which will contribute to Sam’s success is an intangible that can’t be measured by his combine performance or from game film—his drive.
USA Today writer Tom Pelissero obtained a quote from an unidentified NFC scout who spent significant time evaluating Sam, in which he mentions that the young player’s motivation may be the key to his success and the key to earning him a spot on the roster, despite what his critics may think about his future on the team.
He's tight, he's stiff and he's short. He's got a lot going against him. But he's got the part that's going to be hard for us to discount, and that's his motor,” he said. “He's relentless, and players like that — they can make things happen just with their will alone.
With the beginning of football season now just a few short weeks away, only time will tell if Sam can build upon his success in college that gave him the opportunity to be drafted in the league. While he certainly has the foundation to build upon and be a success, his own hard work and determination will likely be the deciding factor in whether he earns his spot on the roster as well as a starting position—if not immediately, then in the future.
In a quote tweeted by Jim Thomas, beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sam conveys his appreciation for the team who gave him a chance, and he will do everything in his power to stay on the team following the preseason:
Sam surely can't wait for the season to begin so he can prove his doubters wrong once and for all and earn his place as the first openly gay player in the NFL.
Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com
Mike Martinez is a contributor for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @MikeMartinezBR