Michael Sam's time in the spotlight at the NFL Combine is over and it came with mixed results. Sam aced his media session, impressing everyone with his poise, awareness and forthrightness. This is a guy ready for the spotlight of being the NFL's first gay player if drafted.
On the other hand, Sam's performance in on-field drills was decidedly subpar. Among defensive linemen, his time of 4.91 seconds in the 40-yard dash time (which included false starts) ranked him 19th out of 42. On the bench press, his 17 reps of 225 pounds put him in a three-way tie for the second-fewest out of 40 linemen.
Eric Edholm of Yahoo summed it up well:
On the one hand, his workouts didn’t separate himself or change the discussion that started at the Senior Bowl that Sam had little chance of being a three-down end or developing into a linebacker. In particular, his bench-press and vertical-jump numbers were poor, and he remained stiff in positional drills. But Sam acquitted himself very well in his meeting with the media and NFL teams, as he appears driven to prove himself as a football player despite lacking ideal physical traits.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who watched Sam at Missouri, said something on NFL Network I also noticed: "He looked very distracted and he looked very tight. ... You could see he was nervous. ... He needs to get into an environment where he is more comfortable. He's going to be a guy who can help a football team. I don't care what anybody says -- that was a distracted Michael Sam out there."
Combine performance is not the be-all and end-all for draft prospects. Teams use it to get a sense of a player in private interviews, looking for red flags and warning signs. The drills are not unimportant, but the league is filled with players who struggled at the Combine for one reason or another. Sam will have his next big test at Missouri's pro day for NFL scouts, and his performance in drills there have taken on an added importance. Another subpar performance and you'll start hearing people using the word "undrafted" about Sam.
Before the Combine, the consensus of draft analysts was that Sam would be a mid- to late-round pick (the draft has seven rounds). Based on the Combine, NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock (who likes Sam as a player) has Sam falling to the fifth round, give or take a round. That's really not that far off from pre-Combine forecasts.
Sam was never projected to be a first- or second-round choice and his Combine drill results pretty much fit the profile of a player drafted much later. He is pretty much who we thought he was.
I'll give the last word to Greg A. Bedard of the MMQB wesbite who watched film of 12 of Sam's 14 games last season. While Sam did not impress him as a potential NFL player, he made a point worth remembering in the run-up to the May draft:
"There's a saying in the NFL: It only takes one team. One team that sees Sam's ability better than I do, one team that believes that his courage in announcing he is gay before the NFL Scouting Combine is a trait that can help them. On draft weekend, nothing is a surprise. And draft position doesn't really matter all that much; many undrafted players go on to have long and successful NFL careers. They just need to land in the right situation, with the right coaches, to unlock their potential."