Mayock: If Sam can play, his sexual orientation is a non-story
KNOWING WHAT HE knows about Michael Sam as a football player, Mike Mayock has a third- to fifth-round grade on the Missouri defensive end heading into next week's NFL scouting combine.
"I watched the tape and saw him at the Senior Bowl and have a pretty good feel for him, and my take is he's a third- to fifth-round pick," the Newtown Square-based NFL Network draft analyst said.
Knowing what he knows about Sam's sexual orientation after Sam publicly revealed on Sunday that he's gay, Mayock still thinks it's likely that the kid will be a third- to fifth-round selection in the May draft.
"My take on this whole thing, and maybe I'm being naïve and altruistic, but my take is if his Missouri teammates were mature enough to deal with it, why can't an NFL team deal with it in the same manner?" Mayock said.
"If I were a team, I'd hope that I would look at him and say, 'OK, this is what he is [as a player] and draft him in that range if he's available.' I think some teams are going to say, 'Hey, I give the kid credit for coming out. I'd like a tough-minded individual like that in my locker room.'
"But I think there will be other teams that are going to look at it and say, 'Do I want that distraction in my locker room?' "
Last summer, Sam told his Missouri teammates and coaches he was gay. He went out and played well enough to be named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and the Tigers finished 12-2 and beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. So much for potential distractions.
"We're in new territory here, so I have no idea," Mayock said. "I kind of feel like I did last year with Manti Te'o in that we in the media are going to blow this way out of proportion. I respect that and understand that, because this is kind of an important moment in NFL history. I'm not undermining that at all.
"At the end of the day, though, I thought the whole Manti Te'o thing was crazy, and he went in and worked hard and kept his mouth shut and it became a non-story. And I think, over time, that's what I hope happens here.
"We're going to blow it out of proportion. The kid, who sounds like he's a really good kid, is going to get in a locker room and work his tail off, and everybody is going to forget about his sexual orientation."
Not right away. Media credential requests for next week's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis soared yesterday, a day after Sam came out. Sam will be one of 330-plus draft prospects in Indy. His news conference there will make those of Te'o and Tim Tebow look like bridge-club gatherings.
While Sam didn't reveal publicly that he was gay until Sunday, Mayock said most NFL people already knew at the Senior Bowl.
"I don't know if it was common knowledge," he said. "There were some conversations about it. Obviously, the kid came out to his team last year. So people knew."
At a shade under 6-2 and 255 pounds, Sam will find that his biggest challenge at the next level will be overcoming his size and lack of experience in coverage more than how he is received by teammates, opponents and fans.
Sam is a 'tweener. Too small to play with his hand on the ground in a 4-3. Not experienced enough and maybe not fast enough or nimble enough to drop into coverage as a linebacker.
"He's an explosive kid who's much better going forward than he is going backward," Mayock said. "His size would dictate he's got to be a linebacker, but I don't think his physical skill set dictates that, and therein lies the rub.
"He's got some ability coming off the edge and chasing a quarterback [he had 11 1/2 sacks last season]. However, I don't think he has an ability to stand up and play linebacker.
"Depending on your scheme and what you're looking for, he's not an every-down player. The best case for me is he's a four-team special-teams player and a situational pass rusher. It just depends on where you value that kind of guy."
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