For now, it appears, the “hype” surrounding Michael Sam being drafted into the NFL has slowed to a mere trickle in the media. With OWN postponing their documentary, the former co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year has been essentially out of the spotlight, able to focus on his main goal; making the St. Louis Rams 53-man roster. Despite most having not seen the 7th-rounder take a snap in “live action” since his drafting, many are still speculating about whether or not Michael Sam can actually accomplish that goal. In fact, many have fallen for the narrative that the Rams defensive line is “too crowded” for the Mizzou Tiger to find a spot on the depth chart at the end of August. That simply is not true…
In reality, Michael Sam, assuming he performs adequately, should be a near “lock” for the 53-man roster. Last season, the St. Louis Rams maintained nine defensive linemen for the vast majority of the regular season, including five defensive ends and four defensive tackles. Two pieces from that 2013 depth chart are no longer on the roster, with Gerald Rivers getting claimed by Jacksonville at the end of last season and Jermelle Cudjo being released after the drafting of Aaron Donald this offseason. The additions of Donald, as well as Michael Sam and Alex Carrington (via free agency), bump the projected number of defensive linemen up to 10 heading into the season.
So, why would they keep an “extra” lineman, after maintaining only nine last season?
In year’s past, the Rams have kept only four outside linebackers on the depth chart for most of the season. Last year, thanks to the Jo-Lonn Dunbar suspension, the St. Louis Rams were forced into employing some veteran help in the linebacking corps, signing Will Witherspoon to a one-year deal that expired at the end of the 2013 season. While they may have ran five deep for most of last year, the Rams will likely only keep four outside linebackers this season, freeing up an extra spot for a “joker” defensive piece.
Moreover, the writing may be on the wall for Matt Conrath, who played only 135 defensive snaps last season at defensive tackle. Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams typically only run four deep on the interior of the defensive line, especially since they move both Sims and Hayes to the inside in some sub packages. While the defensive end position certainly isn’t stretched for depth, the Rams would undoubtedly value a versatile end more than a third-string defensive tackle. In fact, being forced to bet between Conrath and Sam making the final cut, the “smart money” would be on Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams keeping the extra pass rusher/defensive end.
So, with Matt Conrath potentially on the block and an “extra” spot on the depth chart in the front-seven, courtesy of Will Witherspoon, there are already handful of gaps where Michael Sam can, and likely will, fit.
|Position||Player 1||Player 2||Player 3|
|LDE||Chris Long||William Hayes||Michael Sam*|
|LDT||Kendall Langford||Aaron Donald||Matt Conrath*|
|RDT||Michael Brockers||Alex Carrington|
|RDE||Robert Quinn||Eugene Sims|
|ROLB||Jo-Lonn Dunbar||Ray Ray Armstrong|
|LOLB||Alec Ogletree||Daren Bates|
The only minor roadblock for Sam making the roster might be the bottle-necked group of defensive backs that have been brought on to compete at camp. However, to start last season, the Rams maintained 10 defensive backs on their starting 53-man roster. From that list, only seven players remain, including Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins, T.J. McDonald, and Rodney McLeod; all of which are locks for the 2014 roster. By the end of the season, Cody Davis, Brandon McGee, and Quinton Pointer had all snuck on the depth chart, but none are a lock to make this year’s squad. New draftees and signees, like Mo Alexander, Greg Reid, Lamarcus Joyner, E.J. Gaines, and Marcus Roberson, all should have a shot of making the cut. However, at the end of the day, the Rams will still likely only keep 10 defensive backs, with the “losers” of the camp competition getting bumped down to the practice squad or getting released.
Some nay-sayers may point to the St. Louis Rams needing extra spots for the offensive line. However, Fisher had 10 linemen on the depth chart at the end of last season, and still was able to hold nine defensive linemen and nine defensive backs. Assuming Mitchell Van Dyk can make the cut, St. Louis will likely start the year again with 10 offensive linemen.
If the past is any indication, the St. Louis Rams should have more than enough room for Michael Sam on the 2014 depth chart. Jeff Fisher has verbalized on numerous occasions that the former Tiger was graded out much higher than the 7th round on their Big Board. Assuming Sam doesn’t completely fall apart at camp and throughout the preseason, there is absolutely nothing that would suggest he wouldn’t be able to find a spot on the 53-man roster for Week 1 of the 2014 regular season.