After a full night of repairs, it appears as though Twitter has finally mended it’s foundation after the internet broke upon hearing Michael Sam’s announcement last night. With it being the offseason, Sam will likely remain a headlining topic for debate until the NFL Combine, which is a little over a week away. However, with this being a St. Louis-friendly site, we figured we would dive into the action and dissect whether the current co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year might fit on the St. Louis Rams roster.
Successful organizations, and especially those with long-standing head coaches and general managers, draft the best talent on the board and handle “the baggage” that comes with them. Jeff Fisher has built a solid reputation on taking “red flag” players, including Albert Haynesworth, Adam “Pacman” Jones, and more recently, Janoris Jenkins. While Michael Sam wouldn’t be considered “red flag” for his recent announcement, he will bring Tim Tebow-sized luggage. However, those in Rams Nation can rest assured that those in the Rams’ War Room will not hesitate to pull the trigger if someone on their draft board drops below where they had him graded. Look no further than Stedman Bailey to make that point!
So that begs the question, where is Michael Sam projected in the 2014 NFL Draft? While we don’t know how he will grade out on the Rams board, we can get a general sense…
CBS Sports ranks Michael Sam No.9 among outside linebackers, which is solid enough for a 3rd round projection, despite the anticipated conversion from defensive end to outside linebacker. NFL Draft Scout puts Sam as their No.11 defensive end, slapping him with a 3rd to 4th round projection. Walter Football has the lowest grade for the former Tiger, ranking him No.14 on their list of outside linebackers; still good enough for a 3rd to 5th round projection.
Now that “projection status” has been somewhat established, how would he fit on the St. Louis Rams roster?
Despite managing 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss last season with the Mizzou Tigers, many are concerned about his “lack of size” as a bookend defensive linemen (i.e. height), forcing most scouts to project that Sam will be converted to a stand-up, outside linebacker at the next level. It is that projected conversion that has likely sent his stock sailing down the board, especially with concerns about his “limited flexibility” and inarguably mediocre straight-line speed (low-4.7s). That quickness and initial burst of speed shown in college would certainly be less effective when dropped back into the second-level, where Sam has limited experience.
However, given the rotation philosophy of Jeff Fisher and the recent hiring of the pressure-obsessed Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams add him as another defensive end in the mid- to late-rounds; as a great man once said, “you can never have too many pass rushers” on the roster. As another weapon in the Rams’ already-dominant pass rushing arsenal, Sam could certainly see some time in the defensive line rotation. Those straight-line speed concerns would vanish (remember Robert Quinn ran a 4.62), allowing the former Tiger to rely on his first-step quickness and natural leverage advantage get into opposing backfields.
Moreover, with William Hayes and Eugene Sims already solidified in the rotation, the St. Louis Rams are one of the few teams in the league that could “sit” Michael Sam, allowing him to focus on a potential conversion to outside linebacker and build on his already impressive defensive skill set. His 6’2 tall, 255 lbs. frame is reminiscent of an Elvis Dumervil or Vontaze Burfict, although he is certainly more of a pass rushing specialist than a bone-crushing enforcer. Still, with a year to learn from J0-Lonn Dunbar, James Laurinaitis, and the St. Louis Rams’ excellent coaching staff, he could emerge as a starter in the second level by the 2015 season.
So, what is the conclusion?
Given the overall shape of the depth chart, it is doubtful that Michael Sam will be high on the St. Louis Rams draft board in May. However, if his announcement (and/or his performance at his Pro Day, Combine, etc.) pushes his stock down the board, it would certainly not be a surprise to see Jeff Fisher and Les Snead take a flyer on the “local school” hero.
To reinforce the point, we do not believe that either Fisher or Snead would make any selection in the NFL Draft to “take a stance.” However, we are firmly in the belief that if any player falls below where the Rams graded them on their Big Board, they will not hesitate to make the selection, regardless of their baggage. That’s what separates the good coaches and general managers from the great ones!