Being raised in a fairly diverse household, I was constantly learning how to view adverse situations from two different ideals of my parents. There has always been one similar undertone. My parents are traditional in all aspects of religious boundaries and are less tolerant towards homosexuals in general. I don’t agree with them and we will never see eye to eye in that respect. I’ve grown on my own and formed my own opinion on my own and this article has nothing to do with my support of equality across all races, genders and sexuality. I feel as if this is to be made clear. This article is black and white, and football based.
How many people could tell you all about Michael Sam prior to him coming out this year? In all aspects of his decision, it was courageous and I admire his transparency. But we, in the media and in the crowd, have our own transparencies about his career. Prior to his announcement, I had very little recollection of Michael Sam. I was made aware of his accomplishments on the field. I was aware of his Co-Defensive Player of the Year award in the SEC, which some call the most NFL ready conference in college.
Michael Sam’s announcement may have done him some harm, but I think in the long run it has done us more good than him. It has exposed us to the problems we face on a day to day basis and sometimes are too uncomfortable to talk about openly. It has put a topic so controversial onto the main stage of America’s most popular sport. Unfortunately, his announcement has welcomed more scrutiny and more attention to detail to his game on tape than anything.
Michael Sam is a football player. No more than Jadeveon Clowney and no less than an incoming one-star recruit. Michael Sam is a man, no more and no less than Sammy Watkins. But Michael Sam is gay and that makes everything more different right? It shouldn’t, but it does. It makes the critique of his game that more critical, this is an assumption.
His play on the field has been picked apart and I’ve done as much research as I could have. I’ve watched several of his plays throughout his breakout year and I have come to one conclusion. Michael Sam has a very good chance of going undrafted this April. Michael Sam recorded 11.5 sacks during his senior year, a 7 sack increase from his junior year.
Breaking down his statistics, Sam has showed progress as a football player. Comparing his final two seasons at Missouri, Sam increased his stat line in most relevant categories. Increasing his total tackles, sacks and tackles for loss by 24, 7.0 and 12 respectively. These stats do jump out at you, but digging deeper a majority (the most important and most talked about) of his sacks came in the course of three games against mediocre offensive lines alike. According to the NCAA database, Arkansas State gave up an average of 1.15 sacks per game, Vanderbilt gave up 1.85 sacks per game and Florida gave up 3.00 sacks per game. This does not entirely paint the picture I am trying to show here, but I am trying to explain that his 11.5 sacks on the season were a misrepresentation of his “dominance.”
Michael Sam is not a “can’t miss” prospect, but the uncertainty intrigues me. I’ve heard that he has a high motor and plays with passion. You can’t teach that. While there are many concerns regarding Jadeveon Clowney’s work ethic, we know what we’re getting when it comes with Sam. You are getting talent in character, drive and motivation. This kid does not want to be labeled and known for his sexual orientation. He wants to be known as the football player. His mind is on football. That is good. Because Michael Sam is not a prototypical defensive end. Many teams in the NFL run a 3-4 scheme and will want to move Sam to an outside linebacker role because of his size. This is not an easy transition for a fairly one-dimensional player. This is not an easy transition for any player. Learning to play in space is like learning the defensive mindset all over again. His talent does not supersede the growing pains that will likely come with the change in position. Even if drafted into a 4-3 defensive scheme, Sam lacks the size and technique to be an every down defensive end. At most, he is a situational pass rusher and will play in passing downs only.
During the Senior Bowl, Sam went toe to toe with several NFL-ready offensive tackles and struggled. He made no impact all week in practice and was put outside his comfort zone. Sam is a textbook situational pass rusher and it’ll have to be Sam who explains to teams before and after the NFL Combine that he can make a transition and that he can prove all of us wrong. His size is a question and his talent does not jump out at you. Michael Sam had a disappointing combine, putting more scrutiny to the name. A total of 26 running backs and wide receivers out performed Sam in the bench press drill with 18+ repetitions. Sam recorded 17, tied for second to last place among defensive lineman.
While the number of repetitions on the bench press and 40-yard dash don’t predict future NFL success, it could have helped Sam’s draft stock. It seems as if lately his stock has been declining and there is a chance that Sam could go undrafted. I don’t think that will be the case, some team in the NFL will take a chance on the kid and take along all that comes with it. Numbers in the combine don’t prove a man’s worth and at this point, I am rooting for Michael Sam. The kid deserves a shot at an NFL roster spot and teams have to be willing to accept all the attention the kid will get day in and day out. But like any store that comes up, it will eventually become irrelevant and Michael Sam will be able to focus on football.
Michael Sam could go 1st overall, last overall or not taken at all. What we as a society need to focus on is he is drafted based on talent this April, not his baggage. The man is gay, but the man also plays football and deserves only that distinction.*unedited version