What Football Outsiders Should Know About Michael Sam

Hi. If you’re reading this you’re likely not a football fan. That’s okay. Really. You’ve also likely heard of former Missouri DE Michael Sam who will be entering the NFL draft this year as potentially the league’s first openly gay NFL player. If the early signs are any indication, you’re also going to be under the impression that there is a war going on to keep Michael Sam out of the NFL because of his sexuality. You’ll likely get mad, head to Facebook or Twitter and lay into the NFL for keeping the dark ages alive. That’s okay too. Really. But hear me out first. I wrote this piece to give football outsiders such as yourself a few things to consider before you blow your stack.

The draft is a very tricky and confusing thing. Those of us that follow it every day still don’t fully understand it. Hell, the Browns don’t even understand it. So in this article I’d like to introduce you to the draft and the realities of the NFL as they relate to this new situation. As usual, comments emails agree/disagree statements are always welcome. But here are 6 things I think you should know.

“Draft Stock” is Not NASDAQ & Is Not A Tangible Thing

The internet would like you to think that it can predict the draft. It can not. I know this because I publish a draft blog and I’m wrong a lot. Teams have their own notes and opinions on prospects and the molecules of information that make it to the public rarely tell the whole story. The number one rule you have to know is that the draft happens when the teams turn in their picks. Not a moment before. “Draft Stock” is a pretty obtuse term. Some websites base it off actual first hand information from scouts and sources. Most of the internet, however, uses “Draft Stock” an imaginary intangible term meant to quantify players on a scale derived from their own opinion that bears zero impact on the decision making process of NFL teams. This fictional “stock” can go up and down all day long on the internet. It’s not real. “Draft Stock” is not a NASDAQ type commodity.  It’s an educated guess that you have to hope is actually educated.

Case in point take Rob Rang of CBSSports.com’s piece titled Examining Why Michael Sam’s NFL Draft Stock Is Falling. It’s the kind of headline that’s supposed to spark some outrage as you’re whizzing through your Facebook feed. The article sites a 70 place drop in Sam’s stock on NFLDraftScout.com. Holy shit, 70 places. That’s his stock! He like… needs that maaan.

Calm down and consider a couple of things here.

  • #1 Who owns NFLDraftScout.com? CBS does. Essentially, CBS is reporting on it’s own downgrading of a player on their own grading scale.
  • #2 The article was posted at 8:00 AM the morning after this information went public. It hadn’t even been news for 24 hours. The NFL hadn’t even had time to react yet, so it’s safe to assume that this dip in “stock” is someone at DraftScout’s opinion more than anything that came from an NFL front office.
  • #3 Sam’s actual Draftscout profile still lists him as a 3-4 round projection. So unless the NFL added an extra 70 picks in the 3rd round there’s even less reason to take a drop in “draft stock” seriously.

The article doesn’t explicitly say that “draft stock” is a real thing. Rob Rang is a dedicated draft writer. He’s not always right  but I don’t think would do anything overtly misleading. In fact he says some very honest things in the article. The headline, however, is enough to put a dose of angry social justice into people and garner a few thousand extra clicks.

For the record I love DraftScout and reference it daily. They’re very good at what they do and maybe there is some truth to the dip in perceived draft stock. But THE DRAFT DOESN’T HAPPEN UNTIL IT HAPPENS. People are already getting fired about about the possibility of Michael Sam going undrafted.

This time 2 years ago Chandler Jones was a 5th round pick. He went 21st overall. Jimmy Clausen was considered a top 5 pick who fell to the middle of the 2nd round (and we eventually found out why). And last year at this time no one had even heard of University of Houston DB DJ Hayden (who almost died in a college practice) who got some attention in the press just days before the draft and went 12th overall to the Raiders. I’ve spoken to the editor of Walterfootball.com, a well respected site that starts preparing mock drafts a year in advance, who broke out his entire mock draft projections on Sam. They ranged from 2nd – 5th & beyond with no distinguishable pattern per se.  Please…folks… settle down.

There Are Actual Football Reasons to Downgrade Michael Sam

I can’t help but shake the feeling that the internet is not only capable of but is dying to lose its collective shit when Michael Sam doesn’t go in the first two rounds. Yes, his stats are outstanding. He was the SEC defensive player of the year. But please, opinionated masses of the internet, trust me when I say that there is more than that when considering draft picks and real reasons why there are more appealing picks than Michael Sams. Here’s a crash course on how legit NFL prospects like Sam get scrutinized by NFL scouts:

  • Inflated Stats 9 of his 11 sacks came from just 3 games. Three sacks in a game is tremendous but NFL teams like to see consistent production. All 3 of those games were blowout wins for Missouri against inferior competition. Teams pass more in blowouts and are more vulnerable to sacks.
  • Inexperience He’s a year and a half starter with only 1 year of solid production. NFL teams have a tendency to be weary of players with fewer than 2 years of strong statistical production as a starter.
  • One-Dimensional Skill Set Sam is an explosively quick DE but lacks a range of pass rush moves. Every year flashy college pass rushers fizzle out in the NFL for the simple reason that they were just more athletic in everyone in college and now they’re not. It’s not enough to just be fast or strong in the NFL. You need technique. It’s coachable, but not every player can make that leap.
  • Limited Scheme Diversity We already know he can’t play linebacker. There are two places for a player like Sam: 4-3 Defensive End and 3-4 Outside Linebacker. They’re very similar positions. The fundamental difference is that a 3-4 OLB has to be able to drop back and cover receivers. Sam already proved in the Senior Bowl that he can’t do that. That alone may take him off the board for teams that use a 3-4 defense.
  • Awards Aren’t Everything Being the SEC DPOY isn’t a guarantee. Of the 10 previous players to earn the award 8 of them were first round picks, 3 of which (Rolondo McClain, Glenn Dorsey, and David Pollack were largely considered “busts” (a term for a highly ranked player who disappoints in the NFL) in various degrees. Also Chad Lavalais lasted only 2 seasons in the NFL after being taken in the 5th round of the 2003 draft.
  • He’s Maybe Too Short For the Patriots I’m inclined to agree with Bob Kraft that the Patriots would be a great fit for a player in Sam’s situation. However, history isn’t on his side as far as his physical build. 6’2″ 255 lbs might sound really big but Bill Belichick traditionally drafts pass rushers in the 6’3″ – 6’5″ range. It might sound negligible to you, but that’s the way Coach Belichick has trended. Worth noting though is the fact that Sam has a very similar build to current Patriots starter Rob Ninkovich who, despite flourishing in New England, was not drafted by the Patriots.Important Disclaimer: There are exceptions to every single one of these items. These same red flags get raised on players every single year. Half of these things can be said about Jason Pierre-Paul who went in the first round and is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL right now.Judge for yourself:

    Misinformation Is Part of the Game

    Ask yourself: if a team wants to draft Michael Sam, what sense does it make for them to let the world know it? What sense does it make for them to say “We think this guy is great and can’t wait to draft him?” Every team drafting ahead of them now knows who they like and gets a chance to prioritize their picks knowing that Sam won’t make it past that team.

    NFL teams don’t admit to this but they routinely do clandestine misinformation campaigns like having an anonymous scout leak a report to the press that they’re concerned about X player because of…. “character issues,” troubling fake medical reports, concerns about his technique, etc. Just a few weeks before the 2013 draft “anonymous sources” were all of a sudden concerned that the draft’s top corner couldn’t back up in a straight line.

    It’s underhanded and unethical and sometimes ever drags a semi-innocent young man’s name through the mud. But it’s part of the process. The draft is about execs from 32 teams playing high stakes poker with eachother to make eachother guess what they’re thinking. It is 100% possible that at least one team is interested enough in Michael Sam that they’re willing to perpetuate drama on him to drive his “stock” down. Again… You won’t know until after the pick comes in and maybe not even after that.

    You Might Not Be Doing Him the Favor You Think You Are

    I’ve never been in an NFL locker room. I can’t tell you the difference between what they say about homosexual players in public and what they really mean. I just don’t have that knowledge. One thing I can tell you for certain that the evidence will support is that NFL teams hate media circuses. And there’s typically a 3-step process to how that plays out. Circus-Avoidance-Judgement:

    The League Might Actually WANT A Gay Player

    Strange as it may sound, a gay NFL player might actually work out well for the league. As popular as the NFL is the company has taken a beating in the public eye in the past few years: head trauma controversy, PED use, and of course… homophobia. This has manifested itself most recently in story of Viking’s special teams coach Mike Priefer harassing former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe for his public support of gay marriage (if you’re unfamiliar with the story please see Kluwe’s first hand account via Deadspin). The scandal ostensibly forced Kluwe, a very productive and capable punter, right out of the NFL.

    There is a very real possibility that the NFL’s prayers have been answered by having an openly gay draft prospect. Teams with lingering PR issues, like the Vikings, could potentially do themselves a huge favor by landing some positive press welcoming a homosexual player onto their team. If he turns out to be good then that’s a bonus. If not, they tried.

    Walterfootball even reported that after speaking with a handful of NFL Scouts, with mixed responses, at least one team thinks [NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell] is going to be confidentially pressuring general managers to not let Sam fall so low to avoid a public-relations problem and allegations of discrimination. Is this ideal? Of course not. Really we’d like to see a player appreciated on his merits. But I’d just like to make the case that a homophobic agenda isn’t an inevitability just because it’s football.

    Again, these are things the public won’t know until well after the draft if ever.

    Maybe Accept the Idea That All Football Fans Aren’t Bigots

    I get the feeling that there is still a generalized view of football fans as mindless BBQ fingered red faced Fox News watching macho maniacs. 13 million people watch Monday Night Football every week. We come from different parts of the country with different backgrounds, experiences, and world views. We’re your neighbors co-workers and friends. This football fan in particular has two lesbian aunts that I love very dearly. Think of how many people you share an office and a Facebook with that play fantasy football. Do you think that they turn into bloodthirsty homophobes when your back is turned?

    There will probably be people that shout homophobic things at Sam from the stands. They’re in the minority. There will probably chunks of overzealous Christians that will threaten to boycott the league over it. They’re in the minority (and BUH BYYYE WE’LL MISSS YOUUUU). The rest of us aren’t here for a political soap opera, hate speech, or to make our last stand at the heterosexual Alamo. We just want to watch a game, and if Michael Sam can play some football worth watching he’s always welcome here. So maybe chill with the assumptions and homophobic stereotyping.

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