Analyzing Draft Stock for Missouri DE Michael Sam

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 10, 2014

Jan 3, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) runs on the field before the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at the 2014 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Missouri beat Oklahoma State 41-31. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

You're going to be hearing a lot about Missouri defensive end Michael Sam in the coming days and weeks.

College football fans already had. After all, the 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year enjoyed a wildly successful career with the Tigers.

Now, however, that's on the back burner. Sam told Outside the Lines' Chris Connelly on Sunday that he is gay, and his announcement sent shock waves across the sports world. 

It's an announcement Sam wanted to wait to make until after the draft. But as rumors about Sam's sexual orientation swirled at the Senior Bowl, agent Joe Barkett and his client realized the timetable for the announcement would have to change.

Via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, Barkett told NFL AM on Monday:

When we were in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, Michael was being approached by people left and right by people trying to break his story, and it was something Mike wanted to do after the draft originally. Then we kind of regrouped and discussed if Mike would still be able to do it on his terms at that point in time. And Mike and the rest of us felt that now this time was a little more appropriate where he could take control of the situation instead of being forced to tell his story after somebody else had broken it. 

For what it's worth, that's the last you're going to see Sam's sexuality referenced in this piece. Maybe one day we'll reach a point where it's not "news" to mention it at all.

In all of the commotion that's about to ensue, a very good football player is in danger of being lost.

Michael Sam Career Stats
*SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year

Sam was a force for the Tigers in 2013, racking up 48 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He had three games with three sacks in his senior season. 

However, the dust had barely settled on Sam's Cotton Bowl-sealing sack before pundits started picking at his game. Where he had been the more productive college player, teammate Kony Ealy was viewed as a far superior NFL prospect.

For starters, at 6'2", 255 pounds, Sam is small for a 4-3 defensive end. Sure enough, at the Senior Bowl in January, he availed himself of the opportunity to work out for scouts as an outside linebacker.

Things did not go well.

Mark Dulgerian of Optimum Scouting told Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star it was easy to see Sam wasn't comfortable in the new role standing up:

I feel like scouts came into the week saying "We know what he can do with his hand in the ground, but with how he looks, we want to see him standing up." They tried him all over the place and he never really found an identity or comfort level that guys find during the week. It's tough to play in a spot you're not comfortable with in front of all these NFL teams and learn it in three days. But luckily NFL teams are smart and they know what he can do from three-point stance. They tried it, and the experiment didn't work out.

Mind you, this isn't to say that all was lost. Even after Sam's struggles in Mobile, Ala., Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller still ranked him inside his top 10 linebackers in the 2014 NFL draft, writing:

Sam is a proven pass-rusher, and he gets into the backfield with knifing speed and smart hand use. He'll need to transition once in the NFL, but his ability to frustrate quarterbacks is well documented.

Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout (via CBS Sports) lists Sam among the defensive ends but agreed that he's a top-15 prospect at his position while tabbing him a fifth-round pick.

Michael Sam 2014 NFL Draft Positional Rankings
Bleacher Report/Matt MillerLB10
NFL Draft Scout (CBS Sports)/Rob RangDE14
Sports XChangeDE11
As of Feb. 9, 2014

Rang compared Sam to Elvis Dumervil of the Baltimore Ravens, writing:

Few undersized pass rushers are capable of beating the odds like Dumervil, but he's the model optimists will point to in projecting Sam to the NFL. Like Dumervil, Sam has an explosive burst and is more powerful than his relatively short frame might suggest.

Mike Nawrocki of NFL.com didn't draw as flattering a comparison, although Nawrocki feels Sam could excel in the right scheme:

Overall, a productive, 4-3 weakside rusher who came on as a senior and made his last season his best. Could fit most ideally as a 3-4 outside linebacker in a zone-blitzing scheme like the Steelers' or Ravens'. Compares favorably to Chargers 2009 first-round pick Larry English, an overhyped, overdrafted, marginal producer in the pros.

And so it went. The general consensus seemed to place Sam either just inside or just outside the top 10 defensive ends, even if many of those same scouts were unsure if that was his future position.

He's the classic "tweener," a smaller defensive end whose ability to flip to the 3-4 in the NFL is in doubt.

The NFL Scouting Combine could have been huge for Sam. The time between the Senior Bowl and Indy gave him valuable time to not only work out, but work out as a linebacker.

A strong performance in agility drills and good showing in interviews could have assuaged some of the fears about Sam's ability to switch spots. At that point, many teams would have looked more at Sam's pass-rushing ability and resume, and his status could have been solidified as a second-day pick.

Now the combine will be important for a much different reason, and his stock as a mid-round pick has been thrown for a loop unlike any we've ever seen.


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