St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher called seventh-round pick Michael Sam on the phone and had a message for him: "We think you can come help us win."
Let it be known: No coach of Fisher's experience or respect for the game would use a draft pick on a player as a ceremonial token. Fisher and Rams general manager Les Snead called in the Sam pick because they believe he has NFL talent.
Now, perspective: Sam is a seventh-round pick. Leaguewide, fewer than half of the seventh-rounders make their teams' rosters as rookies. It's an uphill climb for sure.
But Sam has a chance.
A quick look at the Rams' roster shows that, despite having one of the more talented defensive lines in the NFL, there is a need for more depth, especially at defensive end — where Sam played in college down the road at Mizzou and where he's projected to play in the Rams' scheme.
Sam played most often as a 7- or a 9-technique, rushing wide from the defensive left side, but also kicked down inside occasionally. The Rams have one of the better strong-side ends in football in Chris Long, but there isn't a ton of depth behind Long and fellow end Robert Quinn. William Hayes is a sixth-year vet who figures to make the team, but Sam could find himself in a battle with Eugene Sims, who played in all 16 games a year ago (two sacks), and Sammy Brown, who has played one game with the team back in 2012.
Sam was named co-SEC Defensive player of the year, along with Alabama's C.J. Mosley, who was a first-round pick. Although Sam collected 11.5 sacks, nine of them came against lesser competition, but he also had the game-clinching strip sack in the Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State. In four years at Mizzou, Sam totaled 21.5 sacks in 52 career games.
Does Sam have the athletic prowess to be an NFL player — and can he make the Rams' roster? If he does, it will be as a designated pass rusher and special-teams contributor. Sam is limited athletically and had a poor showing in Senior Bowl linebacker and pass-rush drills and also at the NFL scouting combine. But if there's anyone who knows how to use him as a rusher, it's Gregg Williams, the Rams' new defensive coordinator whose system is predicated on rushing the passer.
Sam, if he's with the team at the start of the preseason, will make his professional debut on Friday, Aug. 8 with a 7 p.m. kickoff against the New Orleans Saints in St. Louis.
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