Nearly two weeks to the day after he rocketed into public consciousness by announcing he is gay, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam finally got a chance at the NFL Combine on Monday to do what he's wanted to all along — put football first.
Sam probably didn't open a lot of eyes with his results during the physical testing portion for defensive linemen at Lucas Oil Stadium.
His 40-yard dash time of 4.91 ranked 19th out of 42, while his 17 reps on the bench press put him in a three-way tie for the second-fewest out of 40 linemen.
What's more, his time in the three-cone drill — which displays a lineman's hip flexibility and acceleration in the pass rush — only clocked in at 7.80 seconds, which ranked 26th out of 36.
“It's concerning,” said draft analyst Eric Galko of OptimumScouting.com and The Sporting News. “That's the biggest thing you look for in a pass-rusher, that three-cone drill.”
But on the whole, Sam's performance didn't surprise Galko much. Like NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock, Galko evaluated Sam as a mid-round pick before the combine and said Sam’s testing results reflect his tape, which basically shows a good defensive end and average athlete stuck in a linebacker's body.
Galko said: “The question about Michael Sam is can he play linebacker in the NFL, can he stand up? It's always a tough transition for great athletes, and he's not a great athlete, he's an OK athlete. He's at his best when he can do a rip move to the backfield, get leverage on his blocker and get to the backfield and then finish plays.”
Sam displayed this often in 2013, with 48 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks on the way to being chosen the Southeastern Conference's defensive player of the year.
It's part of the reason analysts such as Galko and Mayock say he has a chance to stick in the league as a situational pass rusher.
“I still think his best fit is as a 4-3 weakside defensive end, especially on third down,” Galko said. “I think he can develop into a solid rotational player ... the fanfare that came with his announcement has led people to think he'd be a high-end player, and I'm not sure he'll be that type of player.”
After the workout, Sam told the NFL Network that he was happy to have a chance to display his talent in front of NFL scouts and coaches, all of whom he recently said have kept their questions to him during team interviews about football.
“I want to be known as a player, and every guy here at this combine, all 300 of them, see me as a player,” Sam said.