Waiting game for NFL's first openly gay draft prospect

By Larry Fine, Reuters

Posted at May 08 2014 04:41 PM | Updated as of May 09 2014 12:41 AM

NEW YORK - University of Missouri standout Michael Sam, who appeared to be poised to become the NFL's first openly gay player, may face an uphill climb to fulfill his dream as NFL analysts say he may not be drafted this week.

The pass-rushing defensive lineman, who publicly disclosed in February that he is gay, was the Southeastern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year after leading it in sacks and was projected to be a middle-round selection in the NFL Draft.

But after a pedestrian showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, where players are run through physical drills and measurements of their strength, speed and athleticism, Sam's stock fell in the eyes of talent evaluators.

"It's probably going to be a frustrating week for Michael Sam," NFL Network broadcaster and draft analyst Mike Mayock told Reuters on Wednesday. "I'm rooting for the kid and I hope he gets drafted. I'm not sure he is going to get drafted."

Sam, 6-foot-2 (1.88 m) and 260 pounds (118 kg), ran the 40-yard dash at the combine in a sluggish 4.91 seconds and bench-pressed 17 reps at 225 pounds for another low score among players at his position.

Gil Brandt, a vice president in charge of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys for nearly three decades and now an analyst for NFL Network, was more blunt about Sam's chances.

"Because of the depth of the draft this year, (some) people are not going to be drafted, whether they're Michael Sam or anybody with those kind of numbers," Brandt said at Wednesday's NFL event promoting youth football activities.

"He picked an unfortunate year. If it had been last year it would have been a different situation. But because of the depth of the draft, I doubt he will be selected."

The first round of the draft will be held Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York City followed by two more on Friday but Sam will likely have to wait until Saturday, when the final four rounds are held, to find out his fate.

Players not drafted by one of the NFL's 32 teams are then able to sign a free agent contract with a team to compete for a job over the summer.

Best Thing

Mayock, a former NFL player, said Sam was a "tweener," a player who lacked size when evaluated as a defensive end, and who was not quick enough to thrive in space as a linebacker and profiled as a situational pass rusher and special teams player.

"Typically when you're a tweener you've got to have an outstanding physical trait somewhere, and his measurables ... in a subset of players that are similar to him were by far the poorest," Mayock said.

But according to Mayock, not getting drafted could be the best thing for Sam in terms of finding the right place to launch an NFL career.

"Once it gets into the sixth round, you're often better off not being drafted because then you can pick your team, you can pick your situation, you can pick a coach that particularly likes you and has an interest in you making the team," he said.

Mayock and Brandt both agreed that Sam would get a chance to prove himself as a free agent in the event he went undrafted.

Sam is determined to pursue his dream of an NFL career.

"Where I'll go, it doesn't matter, as long as I get to play and put a jersey on my back," Sam said in an interview on ABC TV's Good Morning America after he was named the recipient of ESPN's Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Brandt scoffed at those who wondered if teams might shy away from Sam because of all the attention sure to follow him, or over concerns about how his team mates would react.

"The gay aspect? I think in the National Football League, if a team thought he could help them win, they'd take him in the first round. In this league, the biggest thing is can he help us win," said Brandt. (Editing by Frank Pingue)