Most NFL Draft experts are in agreement. As a pro football prospect, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam projects to be a third-to-fifth-round selection.
By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star
But Sams revelation Sunday that he intends to become the first openly gay man to play in the NFL casts considerable doubt whether he still will be considered a middle-to-late round draft pick in May.
Or drafted at all.
Were in uncharted territory, said Mike Mayock, a draft and game analyst for NFL Network.
There was already a question whether Sam, whos listed at 6 feet 2 and 255 pounds, has the requisite size to play defensive end in the NFL or the attributes to play as an outside linebacker or situational pass rusher.
Combine that with the unknown effect the first gay player could have on team morale in the macho world of the NFL; the reaction by ticket buyers and sponsors; and the media firestorm created by television trucks camped out for every practice, and clubs may have to look hard at whether a third-day draft pick will be worth all the distractions.
The first thing you have to do is evaluate the football player, which I already have done, Mayock said. I watched tape, I watched him at the Senior Bowl. I thought he would go somewhere between the third and the fifth rounds. Hes a situational pass rusher and a core special teams player. I dont think he can stand up and be a full-time outside linebacker.
Depending on how much you believe in his pass rush ability, hes closer to the third round, and the less you believe, hes closer to the fifth round.
But Sams coming out as a gay man could influence a teams decision.
Some general managers and some owners may say, Hey, how about this kid, having the fortitude to come out like this? Mayock said. On top of being a good football player, this is the kind of guy I want in the locker room. Hes a leader
On the other hand, there will be teams that say, Man, do I want to deal with this? Let somebody else deal with this.
Already, some club executives, behind the cloak of anonymity, have told some media outlets that Sams revelation dropped his draft stock precipitously. Others, such as Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery, gave Sam the benefit of the doubt.
It is about his skill set as a football player to add positively to a teams goals, and thats how he will be evaluated, Emery wrote in a letter to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Russ Lande, a longtime draft observer who now covers the draft for Sports on Earth and scouts for the Canadian Football Leagues Toronto Argonauts, doesnt believe Sams coming out will have a big impact on where hell be drafted.
While some teams, for whatever reason, are going to have their issues and move their draft boards around, Lande said, I think the teams with stable leadership, in terms of the general manager and head coach and (who) have a strong locker room with leaders, are not going to worry about it.
Theyll say, Lets figure out how good the player is, lets see if he fits what we do, and if he can contribute and if he can help us win, hell be on the draft board.
Sam, a unanimous All-American and the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, posted a school-record 11 1/2 sacks, but three came against Arkansas State, three were against Vanderbilt and three were against Florida all suspect offenses, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay said, and he had only 2 1/2 sacks in the last seven games.
Sam had difficulty at the Senior Bowl transitioning from playing as a hand-in-the ground defensive end to a standup outside linebacker.
There are not a lot of productive and contributing defensive ends in the NFL who are under 6 foot 2, said McShay, who has a fourth-round grade on Sam. The market for Michael Sam just as a football player is going to be smaller than the market for a lot of other players because hes going to have to make that transition. To not look great at the Senior Bowl, trying to transition to working in space, dropping in coverage.
Meanwhile, Sams fellow Mizzou defensive end, Kony Ealy, who made nine sacks, is expected to be a first-round pick.
Sam, however, will have ample time to build his draft stock. Hell participate in next weeks NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, perform at Missouris Pro Day and have an opportunity to work out for teams at their facilities.
The interviews at the combine and on visits to NFL cities will be every bit as important as what Sam does on the field.
You have to ask with every prospect How does this player fit the personality of our team? McShay said. This is why you spend so much time looking into the backgrounds of players, psychological tests teams are specifically looking for traits and personality and how guys fit in the locker room.
McShay compared the media frenzy that will begin next week to the circus that followed controversial Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in 2010 and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo, who last year was trying to live down the story of his fake girlfriend. If anything, Sam may have taken the spotlight from Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel this year.
You can rest assured that Michael Sam will get as much attention in mid-May as the first-round pick of the team that takes him, said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. If you bring him in as a fourth-rounder or you sign him as an undrafted free agent, the potential for distraction will exist.
I dont know how you factor that in the media focus will be on Michael Sam. Once the season starts, it wont be, but do you want to bring that into your team is a question you want to look at.
Teo, who was college footballs consensus defensive player of the year in 2012, slipped to the second round before San Diego took him; and Tebow, a first-round pick by Denver, is out of the league after failed trials with New England the New York Jets.
The media tumult and distractions that accompanied Tebow could be one reason hes no longer in the league.
People say Im crazy, said Lande, but are there legitimately 95 quarterbacks in the NFL that are better than Tim Tebow? There are probably 50 or 60, but hes good enough to be a third quarterback somewhere. But do you want to deal with the headache of that for a third quarterback?
Thats the obstacle Sam will have to overcome, starting with the 12-week draft process.
Were going to pick this thing apart for the next several months, Mayock said. A lot of people are going to be really tired of it by the time the draft rolls around.
Ultimately what I think and hope will happen, is he works hard, he earns the respect of his veteran teammates, and a year from now, hes just another guy on that team. Thats what happened to Teo.