Michael Sam Still Has Work to Do, But Rams DE Showed He Belongs in NFL

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystAugust 9, 2014

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It isn't often a seventh-round draft pick is the most talked about player heading into his first NFL game.

Of course, as we've established pretty clearly over the past several months, Michael Sam isn't just any football player.

On Friday evening , the rookie defensive end for the St. Louis Rams finally got the chance to see some game action in the National Football League, and while Sam didn't exactly light the world on fire, he did accomplish one very important goal:

Michael Sam showed that he belonged in the NFL.

Everything that Sam's done (or said) since his revelation in February has elicited a response on social media, and it was no different when he entered Friday's game against the New Orleans Saints in the first quarter:

In fact, it's curious that Sam played as early as he did. When the Rams' first "official" depth chart was released a few days ago, Sam was listed as a third-stringer, but he entered the game with the twos.

As Tom Pelissero of USA Today pointed out, it didn't take long for Sam to make a little noise, at which point the fans in attendance showed their support:

Sam played the rest of the first half, finishing with one solo tackle, one quarterback hit and one QB hurry. With rushing the passer being Sam's forte, he expectedly looked most comfortable while going after the signal-caller, even if he wasn't able to seal the deal.

It was about what you'd expect from a seventh-round pick fighting to make the team: Sam showed good burst on the play that got him his tackle, but he almost let the ball-carrier slip through his grasp. On some snaps he looked comfortable, and on others he looked lost.

Sam wasn't great, but he certainly wasn't terrible.

Did the performance do anything to cement his roster spot? Nope, and frankly it was a bit surprising not to see him on special teams.

Scott Kane/Associated Press

At this point, there's still a very real chance Sam won't make the team. But if and when that day comes, it doesn't mean he doesn't belong. It just means he doesn't belong on the 2014 St. Louis Rams, a team not exactly hurting for defensive line help.

Cameron Wake, like Sam, was a "tweener-type" coming out of Penn State. After being cut by the New York Giants, Wake spent a year out of football and two years in Canada before making his way back to the NFL.

Since then, Wake's made three Pro Bowls with the Miami Dolphins.

Kurt Warner played in every football league but the NFL this side of the North Korean Flag Football Federation before finally getting his shot with the Rams.

That turned out OK.

This isn't to say Sam is going to win a Super Bowl or even make a Pro Bowl. He may never start.

But Sam showed enough Friday night to put to rest the idea that he's anything but the latest kid trying to be Wake or Elvis Dumervil and show that size isn't everything at the defensive end spot.

And if you can pressure the quarterback in the NFL, you're going to stick.

At least that's what Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin thinks. After the game, on the NFL Network's postgame coverage, Irvin summed things up quite nicely.

"He showed that he can play in this league."

Enough said.

Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.