The Missouri Tiger alma mater has been in the news a lot recently. Not even a month after one former Missouri lineman is named Defensive Rookie of the Year, another comes out as being homosexual. Thus far, Sheldon Richardson has been a dream come true. The Mizzou product, who everyone said wasn't a scheme fit and a head scratcher for the Jets, has done nothing but prove his doubters wrong. Enter Michael Sam. He is described as a tweener. Someone who wouldn't be a scheme fit for the Jets. I think most all NFL fans began taking an immediate look at their team to see if Michael Sam would fit as soon as he made his announcement. Some hoping he would fit, some hoping he wouldn't, some just curious.
I am no draft expert, and I will never sell myself as one. I, however, can't remember the last time I heard a more varied group of opinions on a potential player. I've heard people putting him as high as the second round. I've heard people dropping him 70 spots on their board after his announcement. I've heard the 4th, 5th, all the way through undrafted and not getting a contract after the draft. I'm going to go into a little more depth on Michael Sam from a stats perspective in hopes of getting to the bottom of this. I don't have access to PFF premium stats, all my stats will be courtesy of ESPN. To start off we will look at his relevant stat totals for this season (including his bowl game).
Solo Tackles: 31
Pass Defended: 2
These stats were enough to have Sam named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. The stat that won him that title was his sack total. The number itself is high and worth noting, but some are saying how he got them is just as telling. Out of 14 games, Sam registered sacks in just 6 games. He was completely silent in the sack category in 8 games this season. He totaled 3 sacks in each game against Vanderbilt, Arkansas State, and Florida. Against Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Auburn he totaled only 1.5 sacks combined. Does this mean he only produced against weaker competition? Some people seem to be shading it that way. Let's look a little deeper.
Arkansas State vs. #5 Missouri
This game was played in Missouri, and was Sam's first multi-sack game of the season. Arkansas state plays in the much weaker Sun Belt conference. They finished their season 8-5 capping it with a win over Ball State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Arkansas State finished the season ranked 24th in rushing of all FBS teams. 2 of their 5 losses came to SEC teams. (#5 Missouri and #2 Auburn) Arkansas State isn't an elite team, but they aren't bush league either. They averaged 29.2 points per game last season. Michael Sam torched them for 3 sacks and 5 total tackles. It wasn't exactly a feeding frenzy for Mizzou defenders, though. Only 2 other defenders recorded a sack, and neither recorded more than 1. On this day, Michael Sam produced 60% of the teams sacks. Not bad for a player who is 1 of 11 on the field at any given time.
#24 Vanderbilt vs #5 Missouri
This game was played at Vanderbilt. Vandy is a SEC team who finished this season 9-4 with a win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Vanderbilt notched wins over teams like: Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee. They lost games to fellow SEC teams like Ole Miss, #4 South Carolina, and #18 Texas A&M. Again Sam had the most sacks on his team, but this time more players got in on the action. Kony Ealy registered 2 sacks, Marcus Golden registered 1.5 and Lucas Vincent rounded it out with .5 sacks. In this game Sam registered 43% of his teams total sacks.
Florida vs. #5 Missouri
This game was also played in Missouri. Florida had a disappointing season for an SEC team, finishing just 4-8 without making a bowl appearance. 3 of Florida's 4 wins did come against SEC teams. They defeated Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Sam again registered 3 sacks in this game. His fellow Tigers? They totaled 3 sacks. No other player registered more than 1 sack. Kony Ealy, Matt Hoch, and Shane Ray were the other Tigers who registered a sack. In this game, Sam again registered 50% of his teams sacks.
Without watching the tape, it looks like on the days when Michael Sam played his best he was head and shoulders above anyone else on the team. What about the games when he didn't register multiple sacks?
#4 South Carolina vs. #5 Missouri
This game was played in Missouri. South Carolina finished the season 11-2, ranked #4. They defeated Mizzou in OT. South Carolina's record was 3-1 against teams who finished in the top 25. Sam registered just 1 sack in this game. His teammates? They registered just 1 total sack, courtesy of Shane Ray. Again Sam recorded 50% of the teams total sacks.
#18 Texas A&M vs. #5 Missouri
This game was played in Missouri. Texas A&M finished 9-4 and was ranked #18 overall. All 4 of their losses came against the top 25, and against SEC teams. 3 of the 4 losses were by 1 score, the only team to beat them by more was LSU by 24. In this game Sam registered just .5 sacks. Only 2 other Tigers would register a sack. Marcus Golden registered 1, and Matt Hoch registered .5 sacks. Michael Sam registered 25% of his teams sack total this game.
#17 Oklahoma State vs. #5 Missouri
This was the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma State finished the season 10-3 and ranked #17. They had wins over Texas Tech, Texas, and #13 Baylor. Sam registered 1 sack on the night. His fellow Tigers registered a total of 2. Both of those were registered by Kony Ealy. On this day Sam registered 33% of his teams sacks.
What about the games the Sam didn't register a sack in? How did the rest of his team do? For the sake of brevity I will not go in depth on all of these games.
Murray State vs. #5 Missouri
3 total sacks, 3 players registering sacks.
Toledo vs. #5 Missouri
0 total sacks
Indiana vs. #5 Missouri
0 total sacks
Georgia vs. #5 Missouri
2 total sacks, 2 players registering sacks
Tennessee vs #5 Missouri
2 total sacks, 3 players registering sacks
Kentucky vs. #5 Missouri
6 total sacks, 3 players registering sacks
Ole Miss vs. #5 Missouri
1 total sack, 1 player registering sacks
#2 Auburn vs. #5 Missouri
1 total sack, 1 player registering sacks
Of these games, the only game with a large number of sacks registered where Sam was absent was against Kentucky. If you would like to put his season in reference to a player who you will be familiar with, Sheldon Richardson totaled 6 sack in the 2011 and 2012 seasons combined. Michael Sam matched that 2 year total in 2 games this season. Aldon Smith registered 11 sacks in his final season in Missouri, .5 fewer than Smith. Missouri is quietly becoming Lineman-U. They have produced some very capable defensive linemen for the NFL. Sheldon continued his play on the line, Aldon Smith moved to OLB, but the facts remain the same. If you played on the D-line at Mizzou, your chances of producing at the NFL seem higher than coming from many other universities.
Will the Jets draft Sam? That is left to be seen. If he falls down the board to a position where the Jets can find value and not neglect a position of greater need, I would love to see Sam strap on the green and white. His relentless motor combined with the superior line play could spell double digit sack seasons in the future. He would need to make the switch to OLB for that to happen. Is that possible? Sam registered 2 passes defended on the season when he was asked to drop back. They both came against SEC teams, Georgia and Ole Miss.
* - for reference, all rankings came courtesy of ESPN.com "final rankings"