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Sam goes to Rams in seventh round

The SportsXchange

Michael Sam intended to be the first openly gay player drafted, and the St. Louis Rams made that dream come true with eight picks remaining in the 2014 NFL Draft.

"It's a big deal. No one has done this before. And it's kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be ... I want to be a football player in the NFL," Sam said in February.

Before Sam's name was called in the seventh round on Saturday, 24 outside linebackers and 20 defensive ends were selected.

At 6 feet 2, 258 pounds, Sam is not a prototype at outside linebacker or defensive end, the position he played at Missouri. He's too short to be a full-time defensive end and not explosive or agile enough to regularly play as a rush linebacker. In scouting parlance, he was considered slow, lacking quick-twitch movements, and average in lateral agility and explosiveness.

Many in the NFL congratulated Sam for his courage, including Jets coach Rex Ryan and Ravens president and general manager Ozzie Newsome, but behind the scenes scouts doubted Sam could fill a role in the base defense. Most thought he was a nickel package pass rusher, a niche that requires a player show special teams coverage acumen.

With the Rams, Sam can settle in as a niche player on a team that could start four first-round picks on the front four, including two defensive ends with Pro Bowl credentials -- Robert Quinn and Chris Long.

Sam, the co-SEC Defensive Player of the year as a senior, led the conference in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (18.0) and was a unanimous first-team All-SEC pick.

At the 2014 Senior Bowl in January, Sam did not show the fluidity or hips to rotate, drop and burst in coverage, and many teams discounted him as a 3-4 pass rusher after that workout. More questions were raised with a poor workout a month later at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

To many observers, Sam's college production was misleading -- especially as a senior, with six sacks in two games against lesser competition.

Sam announced Feb. 9 that he was gay. The next day, Sports Illustrated cited front-office sources in a story of which the theme was Sam being a long shot to be drafted.

Part of the concern for teams, according to that article, is that Sam will draw considerable media attention as a rookie for reasons other than on-field performance.

In St. Louis, Sam will be a short two hours from his college campus in Columbia, Mo., where he has a strong support system in and around the university.
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