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When the St. Louis Rams drafted Michael Sam, the first openly gay active NFL player, everyone acknowledged that it wasn't an ideal situation for Sam to get playing time.
The Rams have perhaps the best defensive line in the NFL. It's not just star-studded with guys like Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald, it's deep — which is Sam's real problem.
According to SI's Peter King, the Rams came into training camp with eight entrenched defensive linemen, and had plans to keep only between eight and 10 players at that position on the final 53-man roster.
But it is an unforeseen development that really has Sam's chances of making the team in jeopardy.
Undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks is playing out of his mind, King reports, and he is the apparent frontrunner to take the final roster spot for a defensive lineman:
According to NFL analytics website Pro Football Focus, Westbrooks is the highest-rated 4-3 defensive end in the NFL this preseason. That has to be used in context, because he’s played against the lesser lights in much of his game action so far. But Sam has too. Westbrooks has quickness and a power move the Rams think can translate to the NFL game. He dominated at the lower level of college ball, getting 26.5 sacks and 19 more tackles for loss in the 2012 and ’13 seasons at West Texas A&M. He’s stronger than Sam, and right now the coaching staff appears to favor him for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Sam was drafted by a team with an embarrassment of riches along the defensive line, and now a guy from West Texas A&M is coming out of nowhere to make a push for a roster spot.
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Ethan Westbrooks chasing down Johnny Manziel in St. Louis' third preseason game.
By all accounts Sam has played well this preseason. It's not as if he will disappear forever if he gets cut.
King's best guess is that Sam will start his career on the St. Louis 10-man practice squad and rejoin the 53-man roster only if someone gets hurt. But there is also the possibility that another NFL team would claim Sam off waivers and add him to its 53-man roster before the Rams could sign him to their practice team.
We'll know Sam's fate next Saturday, when NFL teams must make their final cuts.
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