The story of the past week has been, and rightfully so, about Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s brave statement that he is a member of the LGBT community.
My personal feelings are these: I have friends in the LGBT community. I know I am far from perfect, so who am I to say anything about them?
Now, let’s get onto the football side of this that concerns me.
Michael Sam was this year’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year. His ability to rush the passer was the difference in many of Missouri’s games and he recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss. Since the SEC is generally considered the best conference in college football, the common logical idea would be that Sam is likely to be drafted early by NFL teams.
Being able to play college football and being able to play in the NFL are two different things.
When you line up against an NFL right tackle you’re not playing a right tackle. You’re playing a former collegiate left tackle that was the best lineman on his team.
That’s just one example of the NFL’s competition level rising to the occasion. Guys that are studs in college can see themselves become average players.
Plus, many analysts believe that Sam benefited from having a great number of defensive teammates who took up blockers and gave Sam the opportunities to dominate the way he did.
I think Sam will become one of those players because of his physical shortcomings. He’s a 4-3 defensive end pass rusher that is 6-2 and weighs 255 pounds. Decent size, but in the NFL, that’s not going to work generally. The prototypical 4-3 defensive end is 6-3 or taller and weighs at a minimum 255 pounds.
There are NFL comparisons like Terrell Suggs, Trent Cole, and Lamarr Woodley that have similar body types and run roughly the same 40-yard-dash time (Sam is predicted to be a 4.7). However, for Sam to reach their level of success, he needs to show he has their level of quickness to make up for lack of speed.
If Sam is drafted by a 3-4 team, he could theoretically convert to an outside or even inside linebacker, but he’ll have to learn to a new scheme and a new pass rush style.
Sam could also become a 4-3 outside linebacker but, he doesn’t have the footwork to play elite coverage. 4-3 linebackers are expected to cover short routes in zone coverage or one-on-one with tight ends.
I predict he will become a linebacker and a situational pass-rusher. He can also play all four special teams, but he will not start unless he significantly overachieves.
This is a problem that a great many players face when they want to go to the NFL. They aren’t big enough, tall enough or lack footwork. These are called defects.
The point is NFL general managers don’t draft guys in the first round that have this many defects. They will draft the 6’5 guy who is faster and stronger over the 6’2 guy and they have years of data to back up their reasoning.
Because of these negatives, Sam gets a fourth-round draft grade from me. I certainly couldn’t draft him in the first or second round even if he was my own brother. First and second round is where you get your starters.
I want the LGBT members who read this piece to understand that Sam’s eventual fall in the draft won’t be solely because of homophobia. The NFL still has many close-minded people in it, but at least one GM would draft Sam if he was a true first-round draft choice.
Will Sam’s sexuality play a role? Absolutely, but it won’t cost him the first or second round. He was never there to begin with.
If Sam goes undrafted, that is when we will know that homophobia in the NFL is truly rampant.