Posted February 10, 2014

Michael Sam: The Scouting Report

2014 NFL Draft Primer
Michael Sam has spoken out. Now, he needs to impress the NFL on the field. (Darron Cummings/AP)

Michael Sam has spoken out. Now he needs to impress the NFL on the field. (Darron Cummings/AP)

We’ll be doing all kinds of draft prospect scouting reports over the next three months, but with the Sunday news that Missouri defensive end Michael Sam decided to publicly declare his sexual orientation, it’s probably a good time to introduce you to the player if you haven’t seen him before, because you’re going to hear a lot about all the other stuff and what it all means.

KING: NFL reacts to Michael Sam’s announcement

Sam was named the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference in sacks with 11.5, and tackles for loss with 19. But the fact that he’s the first player so awarded in many years who isn’t a lead-pipe first-round pick is just as noteworthy as all the other things people will be talking about through the draft and beyond. At 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, and speed in the 4.7 range, Sam is projected as anything from a second-round talent to an undraftable entity. And now, with this news, it will certainly be hard to separate the player from the noise.

“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” one NFL player personnel assistant told SI’s Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

“That will break a tie against that player,” a former NFL general manager said in that same article. “Every time. Unless he’s Superman. Why? Not that they’re against gay people. It’s more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today show. A general manager is going to ask, ‘Why are we going to do that to ourselves?’”

And that’s the ultimate issue. Sam is a good player, but he’s no Superman. He is exceptional in the way he’s handled what had to be a very difficult decision, but in the end it all comes down to the tape.

Pros: Comes off the snap with speed and burst to the outside, and can beat blocks on inside stunts. Gets a good ride on a blocker’s inside shoulder and can push people back when he gets a full head of steam. Has decent redirect and recognition ability — will turn to run and tackle with effort even after he’s beaten, though he doesn’t always hit the mark. Has enough foot agility to deal with cut blocks. Will work through gaps more like a running back than a defensive end — has good patience in waiting for things to open up at the line. Gets his sacks more through effort than technique, though the effort is clear and consistent.

STAPLES: How Sam became a dominant force in the SEC

Cons: Sam needs to be given free space to really do his thing. He’s not an overwhelmingly powerful bull-rusher, nor does he yet possess the array of hand moves and foot fakes that would allow him to elude blockers one-on-one. As a result, he tends to get overwhelmed in the wash of blockers too often. Needs more functional upper-body strength — tends to lose leverage battles even when he establishes lower pad level. This liability becomes even more pronounced when he slips inside in front adjustments and has to deal with a guard and maybe a center on double-teams — he can’t consistently work through power to make plays. Sam also finds it hard to get a second effective strike on a blocker after he’s been stood up on initial impact.

Open-field speed could be an issue at the next level; Sam tends to glide more than he accelerates. Doesn’t have the kind of inside counter (think Dwight Freeney) that would allow him to exert pressure after he’s been pushed out of the pocket. Lacks “get-up” speed in short spaces and plays will move right by him before he can get there. Hasn’t dropped into coverage a lot, though physical limitations make one wonder if he’ll be able to do that at an elite level.

WERTHEIM: Sam speaks out in his own words

Conclusion: Given the nature of Michael Sam’s story, he’ll be an important NFL individual if he makes it through an NFL training camp. Unfortunately, the nature of his play will leave a lot of teams wondering if he’s worth the trouble. That would be true if he was a first-round prospect, but for a guy whose tape shows early third-day talent, things are far more complex. Taking the narrative aside, I think Sam could be a reasonably effective player in a 4-3 defensive line rotation, or a run-side endbacker in a 3-4, if he improves his technique and finds a way to use more pure power on the field. The speed probably is what it is, and that’s a problem — because edge-rushers need more than the burst he currently has, and tweeners who move inside require far more ability to move people than he’s shown.

Michael Sam has shown a great deal of courage and self-knowledge in doing what he’s done. There’s no doubt about that. But his NFL future is far murkier, and that has nothing to do with anything but the ultimate equalizer — pure talent.

NFL Comparison: Sam Montgomery, LSU (3rd round, Houston Texans, 2013)

16 comments
JamesMartin
JamesMartin

The real part of this "gay" player who is entering the NFL draft is after you watch even 2 minutes of this tape of his play against a decent team. You see right away how his best plays were when the offensive lineman "let him by" or when the play "came to him". Other times when effort and ability are needed to make the play, you watch the lineman run him around the outside, taking him out of the play or other times you see the lineman stand him up, giving the QB time to throw and other times when multiple players are in the pile, he's just another guy.

TanzimAhmed
TanzimAhmed

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Funny-One
Funny-One

All this crap will get its 15 minutes and die,,,then will get another 10 minutes at draft and it will be done

Judge Smails
Judge Smails

The SEC DPOY is a mid-round pick at best.  Considering the fanfare the SEC gets, isn't this a bit off?

buzzman69
buzzman69

It all comes down to the tape, except that "NFL people" are saying ties will break against Sam and that the NFL isn't ready and it will create "noise" they don't want to deal with. No contradictions in this article....Why not call it what it is:  bigotry.

PWINGS
PWINGS

The limitations in his ability and his game make him a problematic pick at best. Comparing him to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in MLB, Branch Rickey chose him because he was confident that Robinson possessed:

      1) the intellectual and emotional strength to handle the inevitable abuse that he would endure and  2) the athletic skills to not only play but EXCEL at the MLB level. Robinson was a sure thing! 

While his emotional and mental strength remain to be proven, Sam apparently is NOT a sure thing with respect to his athletic ability. This leaves the NFL team that drafts him with the dilemma of how it would be regarded if it has to cut him. Many fans who would like to see Sam succeed will blame the team for being homophobic to explain why he was cut. Other fans who want to see Sam fail will see him as having been unqualified to play to begin with and only being drafted as a publicity stunt and "window dressing". From the perspective of any team that considers drafting him, cutting him may likely be seen as a "no win scenario" and unjustified gamble given his limited ability and size.

All of that assumes, of course, that such a team would be confident that the locker room would accept Sam to begin with. That's a big assumption. While many concede that Sam coming out before the Combine was a brave thing to do, they also believe that his draft stock will suffer because of it and I agree.

PaulKelly
PaulKelly

1664 NFL  roster players, not including practice squad and not one of them is guy?  Really?

WHO*IS*ESPN
WHO*IS*ESPN

If he doesn't make it he can go promote being queer with jason collins or even hang at the white house with those people. black ,queer, obama's kind......he'll go far

j7apple
j7apple

Sam Montgomery, LSU (3rd round, Houston Texans, 2013) is probably excited that SI used him as a comparison. lol

RayIsBipolar
RayIsBipolar

Some team will be smart and take this guy earlier than expected and they will sell a bunch of jerseys to new fans in the LGBT community. Once the shine wears off the player then he will be yesterdays news.

jbc123
jbc123

If you were thinking of taking a shot at this kid in the third thru sixth rounds, my guess is that you're now going to reconsider. Guys drafted in these rounds often don't make the team for various reasons. With this kid you now have the very real possibility of being branded 'anti gay' or 'homophobic' if you let him go at any point in his career. Why bother with the hassle if he's really  'just another guy'. If he was a guaranteed first round talent it would be different, this will be a circus/sideshow for a guy who may never play for you. Why bother?

friendly--neighborhood--scrawler
friendly--neighborhood--scrawler

What is there to scout? this has nothing to do with the player.. because Sam has made it that way... 

Too often Players have been crushed in the media for being a distraction to their team, making it ALL about them... What is a greater distraction than this... Sam handled it right in College by telling his teammates and coaches and keeping the media out of it... and if anyone had an issue with it... then its on them.... Same way he should have done it entering the pros.. i am sure there are players in the NFL that can name a gay teammate or two... but like anything else its kept in house... 

Too often there are 1st round bust , Sam is a 3rd to late round pick.. why bother taking the chance on him with all this distraction... now if Sam was 1st round / top talent then by all means draft him... its like keeping Tebow on your team, his distraction vastly out weighed his talent... he had to go.. A 3rd string QB having scrums....lol what a joke...

kenc29
kenc29

Seemed like a 5th round linebacker before the news. Now, he might drop to the 7th round or go undrafted. It'll take an unconventional team with strong leadership to draft Sam. Perhaps the Seahawks, which all in all, wouldn't be a bad place to go.

OK
OK

@Judge Smails  

Reverend Tebow led an SEC school to a pair of national titles and won the Heisman.

Now Reverend Tebow's getting ready for studio spots opposite Skippy and Steven Z. Smith.

Saturdays in the SEC and Sundays in the NFL are two different universes.

Just ask Rolando McClain. Or Dee Milliner. Or Morris Claiborne. Or Courtney Upshaw. All SEC studs on defense. The former's out of the League. The latter trio struggle. A lot.

P.S. You'll notice that Reverend Tebow, Bristol's (not Palin's) voice of the SEC, hasn't said or typed spit about Michael Sam. Interesting, Reverend Tebow's silence.

j7apple
j7apple

@PWINGS  All true here....I truly believe  anyone breaking the Gay barrier in a major professional sports, will be someone in their prime, already in the league, coming out.   What Collins did in BB was iffy at best, and was on the way out according to sporting know all's. 


Teams do not like distractions, that is for sure.