At the conclusion of the St. Louis Rams' fourth and final preseason game, everyone who follows the NFL has one question on his or her mind: Will rookie defensive end Michael Sam make the Rams’ 53-man roster?
A handful of pundits say the decision will come down to one of the final roster spots St. Louis has to offer, while others believe Sam making the Rams’ 53-man roster is a foregone conclusion based on his play the past three weeks.
Over the course of the last three preseason games, Sam has tallied some impressive numbers. Since the start of the 2014 preseason, the left defensive end has amassed 11 total tackles, three quarterback sacks and two quarterback hits.
Moreover, the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) have awarded Sam with a plus-1.1 grade overall. That’s a higher grade than the likes of fellow defensive ends Chris Long, Jerry Hughes and Chris Clemons.
By no means does that prove Sam is a better player than the three players mentioned above, because he’s not. But it does mean he has been incredibly productive on a per-snap basis and has earned a place on the Rams’ 53-man roster.
In fact, he and Ethan Westbrooks have both earned spots on St. Louis’ roster. Even though there has been a lot of chatter about Sam and Westbrooks battling it out for the final spot on the defensive line, Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com doesn’t believe that’s necessarily the case.
Discussing Michael Sam and the battle for a ninth (or even 10th) roster spot. ... http://t.co/d3Nvgm9toT— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) August 26, 2014
Yes, things have gotten a lot more complicated for Sam now that injuries have cropped up elsewhere on the roster, but Wagoner has an inkling that St. Louis will keep nine or 10 defensive linemen heading into regular-season play.
This makes a ton of sense for two reasons: The Rams are much stronger at safety and cornerback than they have been in the past, which means they won’t have to keep five safeties because Lamarcus Joyner can play both safety and cornerback.
Also, head coach Jeff Fisher could keep an extra defensive lineman due to the fact William Hayes hasn’t taken a preseason snap (offseason surgery) and Eugene Sims has had his leg in a brace for the past week.
There are so many factors that could potentially play into Sam making the Rams’ 53-man roster from a pure pass-rushing standpoint. However, that's not the only way he could survive the final round of cuts.
DE Michael Sam did well blocking on punt and kick return. ST coach John Fassel pleased with Sam's progress, says Sam is faster than spring.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) July 28, 2014
These ways aren’t being talked about as much considering a majority of Sam’s production has come at defensive end. Ultimately, the 261-pound pass-rusher could snag a roster spot because of his special teams play and ability to kick inside and rush from the defensive tackle position.
Despite the fact there haven’t been a lot of reports about Sam’s special teams play, special teams coach John Fassel has openly said he is pleased with Sam’s progress in that area.
"At the end of the last competitive drill he did a really good job as a blocker," Fassel said, via Wagoner. "I can see him being a good guy on punt return and kickoff return as a blocker."
Obviously, we will have to wait until this coming weekend to see what decision Coach Fisher and general manager Les Snead make about Sam. Yet based on his on-field production, flexibility along the defensive line and the headway he’s making on special teams, it seems clear that he should be a lock.
Went over Michael Sam's preseason tape, he can definitely play in the league as situational pass rusher. High motor leaps off film at you.— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) August 29, 2014
If for some reason Sam doesn’t make the Rams’ final 53, he'll almost assuredly catch on somewhere else. Any pass-rush-needy team that runs a 4-3 would be crazy not to sign him.
Say what you want about Sam’s personal life, but he can play. He has shown more promise in the past three games than the majority of the pass-rushers who were drafted alongside him.
"I'm very confident that I'm going to sleep really well tonight and I'm very confident I'm going to be on a team, the Rams or any other team in the NFL," Sam told reporters following his six-tackle performance against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night.
Quite frankly, he's right.