Michael Sam, the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year who’s trying to become the NFL’s first openly gay athlete, gave detractors additional ammo Monday after an average combine workout in Indianapolis left questions concerning his abilities unanswered.
Mizzou’s standout defensive lineman doesn’t have the ideal size at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds for an outside pass rusher at the next level and struggles laterally according to scouts. He wasn’t as smooth as other defensive ends during cuts and his 25.5-inch vertical jump was average.
Sam came under rapid fire in the notebooks of GMs when a pedestrian 4.91 time in the 40-yard dash put him near the bottom of a list of comparable players based on size or position.
For everything commendable about the SEC sack leader — a torchbearer for gay college football players and a locker room leader — there’s a handful of lingering questions about his reliability and ceiling in the professional ranks in terms of getting around blocks and chasing down ballcarriers. Where will he fit on an NFL roster? He’s not fast enough to drop in coverage as a linebacker, not as quick as most defensive ends.
Projected as a mid-round pick before the scouting combine, Sam will have to trim his 40 time and look better in space during individual workouts to find a spot in the 5th, 6th or even 7th round. Former Colts GM Bill Polian said Monday that Sam may find his niche as a situational pass rusher but isn’t likely an every-down player.
Sam caused headaches for opposing offenses the last two seasons and was a captain during Mizzou’s East title run last fall, but game film only goes so far. That’s the beauty of the combine, an opportunity for players without marquee names (like Kent State RB Dri Archer) to make their way into the early rounds. It’s designed to weed out out mid-level prospects away from the upper-tier. Sam was in the spotlight weekly starring on an SEC contender, but the individual workout numbers don’t measure up.
Sam brings uncharted charisma to a franchise and a willingness to step over perceived social barriers, but there’s other lesser-known defensive ends with more impressive measurables that will be taken ahead of No. 52. He’s worthy of a selection based on his tape and playmaking ability, but whether or not he makes a post-training camp roster will be determined by what he does in the trenches and not at the podium.
Sam has two weeks to train and dispel the ‘tweener’ label at Mizzou’s Pro Day. It’s important to note that no player in combine history faced a more intense media microscope and outpouring of support from the LGBT community going into his combine appearance and that likely had an effect on Sam’s performance. He was under immense pressure from all angles.
Off the field distractions, by Sam’s own admittance, should make less of an impact when he’s able to give it another try at his home stadium on March 6.
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