Who would have thought that a mid-round prospect at defensive end would have overtaken Johnny Manziel as the most hotly-debated player in the NFL draft?
Michael Sam would have been a debated player even without announcing he is gay. It's just that nobody would have paid any attention to it because he was a good college player at Missouri who happens to be a bit small to play NFL defensive end. Now he's one of the biggest stories going into the draft.
Will his announcement affect his draft stock? Perhaps. CBSSports.com dropped him 70 spots in its draft rankings between Sunday and Monday, or almost two full rounds.
The only voice to explain the massive drop for Sam from No. 90 overall to No. 160 on the ranking was Rob Rang, who also works for NFLDraftScout.com. Rang is CBSSports.com's main NFL draft analyst. Rang (who points out that NFLDraftScout.com has Sam as the 110th ranked prospect, which is about a third- or fourth-round projection), says Sam's announcement will affect his draft stock, but that isn't the only reason for the big drop. And he points out that Sam wasn't the only player to see his ranking significantly change.
"An initial drop to 160 from 90 on Monday morning was part of a comprehensive adjustment in the rankings leading up to next week's Scouting Combine that generated movement among hundreds of prospects," Rang wrote.
Rang talks about the distraction Sam could bring to NFL teams, but points out legitimate football issues. Sam is undersized as a defensive end and didn't look good at all trying linebacker at the Senior Bowl, which will lead teams to wonder where he can play. And the announcement is something that will be debated in draft rooms too. Rang says he'll be viewed as a distraction for NFL teams and that could cause him to slip, "perhaps even entirely out of the draft."
Sports Illustrated's Peter King caused some waves when he quoted an anonymous GM saying he doesn't think Sam will be drafted. The GM told King that it was because he doesn't think Sam is a very good player.
For Sam to fall totally out of the draft would be fairly unprecedented given his college resume. He won the SEC defensive player of the year award after leading the conference in sacks and tackles for loss, and as ESPN's Bruce Feldman points out, since the conference started giving out that award LSU's Chad Lavalais is the only winner to not go in the top 33 picks of the draft. Lavalais went in the fifth round, 142nd overall, in 2004. Each of the last seven winners were taken in the first round, Feldman said.
If Sam falls significantly in the draft, his announcement that he is gay will be blamed, whether NFL teams have legitimate concerns about his position or not. An SI.com story quoting eight anonymous NFL coaches and personnel men as saying Sam's announcement will cause him to slip in the draft won't help that perception.
Suddenly, Johnny Football bouncing between first and fifth overall in most mock drafts seems fairly mundane.
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