OK, so Michael Sam did not make the Rams roster, and he did not get picked up by another team for either their active roster. But he did get signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. Opinions are all over the place as to whether or not Sam got a fair shot, both on draft day and this summer. There’s been speculation that he fell to the seventh round because of his announcement prior to the Scouting Combine that was gay, and also a lot of reasons given why his drop was legit. Was does the evidence say?
Sam was SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, a pretty high honor. It’s also a usual predictor of an early selection on draft day. Among previous SEC Defensive Players of the Year there were eight first round picks, one second rounder, and one fifth rounder. Among the household names who’ve won the award are Patrick Willis, Eric Berry, and Patrick Peterson. So Sam was in some pretty lofty company to start with. So why did things go so differently for him?
SI.com ran a piece about him right after he came out, and discussed where he was projected to go beforehand, and the opinions were all between the third and seventh rounds. Now that’s a pretty wide range, leaving a lot of room for judgement from all the pre-draft activities like the scouting combine and his pro day. Sam already had his size working against him (6-3, 255 is pretty small for an NFL defensive end), so if he was to have any chance of going at the high end of his projections he’d have to show some superior speed and athleticism. When it came to that, he failed miserably.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, he ran a 4.91 40 yard dash. That’s the kind of time that big, slow offensive tackles are known to run. 4.91 for a pass rushing defensive end is pretty abysmal. Later, on his pro day he ran a better time, 4.73; an improvement but still nothing to write home about. The average time in 2013 for a defensive end was 4.77, and by contrast first overall pick and fellow defensive end Jadeveon Clowney ran a 4.47 and a 4.53. So you had an undersized player with average speed at best, and that adds up to someone who gets picked later and not sooner. But there were some anonymous quotes, and others fully attributed to Tony Dungy and some others, that suggested having Sam around would be too much of a distraction and that warranted not picking him at all. So the idea that Sam may get jobbed on draft day by the Neanderthal instincts of NFL coaches and GMs became a real thing.
We have no idea what was said in the various War Rooms around the league; unless somebody leaks that a reporter one day it’s going to the grave with everyone involved. It won’t be the first time a highly decorated player got drafted low; in the same draft the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year went undrafted and numerous Heisman trophy winners have fallen to the later rounds. It’s also not uncommon for front offices to value the combine results over what a player did on the field. It often backfires but it happens; if this is what happened with Sam on draft day then it’s no different than what happens with countless other players. I believe that if it were Clowney making the same announcement he would have gotten picked right where he did.
Now what about preseason? Yes, he played well in the preseason while playing with the second unit. But that happens every year. I can run off a list of names of preseason heroes for my Redskins who never made the active roster, and I bet you can do the same for yours. If anything, Sam not making the roster despite his preseason performance should convince you once and for all just how worthless those games are. We didn’t see the Rams practices, but the coaches who did apparently felt that he was not better than the nine lineman they ended up keeping. Sam not playing special teams didn’t help his case either. If you don’t start, don’t play in the regular rotation, and don’t play on special teams, there really isn’t much use for you on a 53 man roster.
Sam got a fair shake, as fair as everyone else who seeks employment in the league. His career is not yet over; the practice squad thing in Dallas could very well be the springboard to greater things. But put away the picket signs if you have them because they aren’t warranted here.