By Steve Silverman
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The shuffling began hours after Michael Sam told the world that he’s a gay man.
Based on his play this year at Missouri and through the whole of his career with the Tigers, Sam proved himself to be an impact player. He has the speed and explosiveness to make big plays at key moments. What he does not have is the kind of size that many scouts label as ideal when it comes to consistency at the next level.
There are very few perfect players from a scout’s point of view. The very best of the best will go in the top 10 of the first round, or perhaps the first half of the opening round in a great year.
Sam was looked at as a third- or fourth-round draft choice before his announcement, but once he came out in such a clear-cut and decisive manner, several NFL teams started whispering,“He’s dropping on our board. We don’t know what position he’s going to play. He’s a tweener. You don’t know what he’s going to play or if he can produce.”
Sam may not have the ideal size at 6-foot-1 and 260 pounds, but what he has is a nose for the football. He has excellent instincts that allow him to get to the quarterback or find the ball when it’s on the ground. He has great closing speed and can also make big plays if he happens to get the ball in the open field.
Smaller players often have a hard time against the run, but that was one of Sam’s strengths at Missouri. He attacks the blocker and knows how to get off of it. He finds the ball and he can bring down the ball carriers.
NFL teams may think that his size is an impediment, but he’s got the quickness to overcome the issue. He was smaller than most of the blockers he went up against in the SEC, and found a way to overcome that issue.
There are no guarantees that he will be successful in the NFL, but he projects to be a similar player to Elvis Dumervil of the Baltimore Ravens, who has had 8.5 sacks or more in six of his seven NFL seasons.
But many NFL coaches and scouts have a tendency to look at Sam as a problem. Not because he is gay, but because of all the attention that he will put on the franchise.
The attention will be glaring prior to and during the draft, and it should remain intense in training camp. Sometime after the season starts, it will start to die down. Sam will never be just another player, but his announcement at the start of draft season means that people can ask their questions and raise their eyebrows now.
At a certain point, Sam’s story will be so well-known that it may not be a big issue for very long.
Much depends on the strength of the leadership of the organization that drafts him. A head coach must be experienced enough that he has dealt with distractions before. The owner must be welcoming. The leadership in the locker room has to be focused on winning and making teammates feel welcome.
While the New England Patriots have been named as a team that might be best for Sam – and they could certainly use his help on the defensive line – the Seattle Seahawks would be the best place for him.
Start with Pete Carroll, who has always been known as a players’ coach. He is about as opposite as an old-school, my-way-or-the-highway kind of leader as it gets.
Seattle has a diverse and accepting culture. The leadership on the team is about productivity on the field and togetherness off of it. If you can keep up with the talent on either side of the line of scrimmage, you can be accepted in Seattle.
There are many more teams that could handle a gay player like Sam. I am sure there are some teams that would make it more difficult for him.
However, despite what you have heard in recent days, Sam is a legitimate NFL prospect. He has the speed, instincts and ability to make a serious contribution as a rookie and he could be a lot more than that as his career progresses.
Sam has made his statement. Now it’s time for one of the NFL’s 32 teams to make theirs by drafting Sam and putting him in a position to succeed.
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