Scouting The Draft: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We continue to look at some of the top prospects in relation to the 2014 NFL draft and the New York Jets

Introduction

If you didn't know who Michael Sam was before last week, you will know now. If you have been living under a rock, Michael Sam has just announced that he is Gay. This makes him the first NFL player (well, at least, future NFL player) to come out while still playing the game. I don't want this report to be about that, but I do credit Sam and his bravery for coming out at such a vital time in his life and career. SB Nation were lucky enough to have the behind the scenes exclusive on Michael Sam on our tremendous "Outsports" blog. If you read any article today, make it the exclusive on Michael Sam as it is first class journalism from a network that you all contribute to. It made me extremely proud to be a writer and editor on the network. Some are suggesting he will drop based on his revelation.....not on my board.

However, saying that, I don't talk about anyone else's private life in the reports so that's all I'll say about Sam's, although it is a little more unique than the usual situation. We're here to talk football and that's exactly what we'll do. My one hope is that this revelation won't distract people from realizing what a tremendous player Sam is and how much potential he has as a future NFL defensive player. Rated as the 75th best defensive prospect coming out of Texas, he was highly recruited, but found his way to the Tigers. He ended his career being named the co-Defensive Player of the year for the SEC after leading the conference in sacks and tackles for a loss. He was also a unanimous first team selection for the all SEC team.

The Jets, of course, struck gold with the selection of former Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson last year.  Maybe we strike gold again in the form of Michael Sam, a player who had a lot of success on the line for Missouri but will likely transition to the OLB position in a 3-4 defense at the next level. I'm always a little cautious when asking players to move from one position to the next at the NFL level, but the traits that Sam possesses mean that if anyone is going to succeed making the move, it will be him.

Measurables

Height: 6"2

Weight: 260lb's

Class: Senior

Projected 40: 4.65-4.80

Statistics

Year Tackles Tackle For a Loss Sacks Forced Fumbles QB Hurries Passes Defended
2013 48 19 11.5 0 5 2
2012 22 7 4.5 2 4 0
2011 29 3 1.5 0 4 1
2010 24 7 3.5 2 2 0

Positives

  • Explosion - The first thing you notice about Sam on film is the explosion that he possesses. It's uncanny how quickly he gets off the snap and how quickly he gets upfield. He has that quickness and first step to really get a speed rush on the outside of the tackle's shoulder. He also possesses excellent closing speed to go along with his quickness.  This makes him very dangerous.
  • Pass Rushing Moves - Sometimes when you look at a prospect in college they will have one more. Sometimes it's just a speed rush, sometimes it's just a bull rush. However, watching tape from the 2013 season, you see that Sam has a well developed spin move, swim move, rip move, club move, bull move and speed rush.
  • Leverage - Lets talk about a compacted frame with excellent weight distribution and a strong lower body that can be used to really push bigger offensive linemen into the pocket. Call him a tweener if you like, but watch his game before questioning his strength. His leverage is among the elite.
  • Rush Defense - When you have a guy with the quickness of Sam, sometimes the knock on them is the run defense. Not with this defensive player. He has quickness to shoot the gaps, and the intelligence and play recognition to ensure he keeps containment. As you can see from the 2013 statistics, he has a knack for getting into the backfield to make plays.
  • Works In Space - I put the pass defended stat in there just to show you that he has dropped back into coverage as part of the Missouri defensive scheme. It wasn't often but when he was asked to do it, he showed a tremendous amount of athletic ability and a fluidity that makes me confident he can switch to the 3-4 outside linebacker role.
  • Motor - He will run all day if you ask him to, and with some coaching he can be a 3-down linebacker. I like players who are going to leave it all on the field, and he's a guy who will do that. High effort, high motor player who obviously has a passion for the game.
Negatives

  • Distraction - I absolutely hate that I have to put this here. Unfortunately, if you google Michael Sam, some of the most popular results will focus on his draft stock dropping because he is gay. Some GM's will avoid because they don't want to bring what they consider to be a distraction in the locker room. Personally, this may be considered a good thing, because he'll drop further than he should, meaning he could offer great value.
  • Changing Positions - I don't think he can stay at defensive end while being 260 in the NFL. At least not in a 3-4, his speed may allow him to comfortably slot into a 4-3 scheme. Like I said above, I think his game can transition quite easily, but it's always a risk.
  • Upper Body Strength - It's going to be interesting to see what he puts up on the bench press at the combine. On tape it looks as though he has good strength, but he uses a club move to ensure he doesn't become engaged too often, so you don't really get to see it.
  • Project Status - If he does have to move to a 3-4 scheme, he will be a project. He'll need coaching on dropping back into coverage and although he does possess a lot of athletic traits when turning and running, transitioning and turning the corner will still be a work in progress.
Conclusion

Personally, I think Michael Sam has 2nd round talent, but ultimately he'll drop to the 4th round. If he does drop to the 4th round, I would be more than happy to see him on board with a defensive coach like Rex Ryan. I think we all admit that we need to get younger at the OLB position, and bringing Sam on board would do that. I love the explosion and I love his ability to make plays in the back field. He has natural pass rushing ability, mixed in with well coached techniques. At the start he could be used as a situational pass rusher and then slowly his game could be added to. There are some guys that just need a little coaching and a little work and they turn into stars. I don't know if Sam will become a star, but I do know he has the drive to success and the talent to work with.

Would I Draft Him For The Jets?

I think we have some offensive issues we need to address in rounds 1-3, or at least a couple of offensive weapons and then Jimmie Ward. However, if we get to round 4 and he's still on the board, I have to consider taking a man with this kind of talent. I think the distraction will be overblown and in the end it'll be partially forgotten about. Lets not forget his teammates at Missouri have known since 2012 and there have been no problems.

Video Highlights


*I know the members here and I know you will be respectful when commenting on this article regardless of your views. Please remember that we are here for football and we should be judging Michael Sam on his ability on the field. If you want to comment on his decision to announce his sexuality, please go to Outsports by the link in the introduction to comment. Cheers, everyone."
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