This week Michael Sam will become the first openly gay athlete drafted by one of the Big Four men's pro sports leagues when he is selected in the NFL Draft. The NFL Draft spans three days - May 8-10 - and the big question is when exactly Sam will be drafted. Consensus in the media points to the fifth round, which would be some time Saturday afternoon or evening. But projections range everywhere from the third round to undrafted (which seems virtually impossible).
Something NFL.com's Judy Battista told me over the weekend is fascinating: "I was told by more than one personnel executive that they think there are owners who will push their people to draft him because they think it is time for this ceiling to be broken."
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The NFL Draft is May 8-10. It will be an historic moment of celebration for the LGBT community when openly gay player Michael Sam is drafted by an NFL team.
The owners - the guys so many people pointed to as the old guard who didn't understand gay issues - may push their teams to reach a bit for him. Some of them want him badly (though, of course, not badly enough to reach too far).
All told, there are 256 selections in the NFL Draft this year. Depending on the source Sam is rated differently, with the fifth round being the most popular prediction:
- SB Nation's Stephen White: "Sam is the best corner rusher that I have broken down thus far." He didn't predict rounds but said Sam going to a team in the fifth round would be a very good value.
- NFL Network's Steve Wyche: "The majority of NFL personnel types - GMs, personnel staffers, scouts, player development guys - feel that he will be a late-round pick. In the sixth or seventh round. There are several who feel that he might go undrafted - or at least feel that there are more players worthy of drafting. Sounds odd that the SEC Defensive Player of the Year might not get selected but a lot of these talent evaluators aren't sure if his football skill set translates to the NFL."
- NFL.com's Judy Battista: I think he will be picked on the third day, maybe fourth or fifth round. I think his coming out will have almost nothing to do with it, honestly (why it was so smart for him to come out as early in the process as he did.). He did pretty well at his Pro Day, but he is, in the end, a tweener -- smaller and slower than would be ideal, but nobody will be questioning his work ethic or his leadership skills. He'll have to play some special teams. I have no doubt that he will be drafted.
- Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman: "I've asked everyone I know and the best guess of a bunch of people is early fifth round. Now, I think he should go higher. So do some NFL teams but they think some of his postseason testing wasn't as good as they wanted to see and the NFL is obsessed with numbers. The chance he has to go higher is if a team ignores the testing and just goes by what he did on tape. And there's a chance of that happening."
- SB Nation NFL editor Ryan Van Bibber: The third round, no later than the fourth, looks like a very reasonable landing spot for Sam. This draft isn't top heavy with pass rushers, so he'll appeal to teams looking for players who have the talent their coaches can develop. Sam's technique is more polished than others. That's a nice starting point for a team. Three teams that come to mind as a good fit are Atlanta, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I'd like to see what Ray Horton could do with him in Tennessee's defense.
- Bleacher Report's Matt Miller: "The New York Jets are one of the many ideal landing spots for Michael Sam. Head coach Rex Ryan has made a career of taking edge defenders and unleashing them on quarterbacks, and Sam's upside and production have to be enticing to a team in need of athletic outside linebackers. Sam looks like a fifth-round pick to me, but is definitely considered a player with the upside to develop from a situational or special teams player into a bigger role."
- ESPN's Jason Whitlock: "Seventh round. In the end, Sam's lack of athleticism and questionable measurables cause him to slide in the draft. I do think he will make a roster and be a valuable special teams player as a rookie."
- NFL Draft Scout and CBS Sports have Sam rated as a fifth-round pick, the 169th best player in the Draft.
- In February, Las Vegas odds-makers placed the "over/under" for Sam's draft position in the middle of the fourth round.
I personally think he'll go before the fifth round. What Battista said is pretty key: Some owners want him. They saw the incredible spike in merchandise sales around Jason Collins. With a first-year salary likely in the high six figures, what other athlete at that time of the draft could make a financial return on investment before the season starts in September? That's what will happen with Sam, from preseason ticket sales to jerseys and other merchandise. The owners are businessmen: Some of them are pushing to lock up Sam in the draft.
Some of these owners likely also want him because of the Branch-Rickey-esque legacy he may leave behind (movies will eventually be made about this). Think about New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. He has an incredible football legacy, watching his Patriots win three Super Bowls and play in three more. Drafting the first openly gay NFL player? Something thought impossible just a few months ago? That would certainly add to what is already likely to be one of the great NFL owner legacies of all time.
Plus, in a passing league there is a constant need for effective pass rushers. Sam is one of the best in the draft. All of this talk about him being undersized and having a subpar Combine is undermined by what Aeneas Williams told me, and what guys like Warren Sapp have said: Michael Sam can rush the passer. Period.
Whether you focus on marketing, merchandise or on-field performance, Sam is a potential gem.
My prediction: Late third, early fourth round at the latest. Remember, all it takes is one team. The fact that there's a Friday night break between those two rounds plays a role. Some teams will push to get him before the Friday night break, and some owners will have conversations with their general managers after the break. The Dolphins select at No. 81. I haven't heard the Dolphins mentioned by many people, but playing against Tom Brady for the next few seasons certainly is intriguing. While the Patriots are unpredictable, I look at their 93rd overall pick as a potential spot. If I had to come up with two "hunch" picks, it would be those and the Browns at No. 106 (the absolute latest he should go). Remember, before he came out he as listed as the No. 90 player in the draft by CBS Sports. That was based on his on-field performance.
The Ravens select at 99 and the Niners with the 100th pick, the last pick of the second day. If he doesn't go then, I'll look at the Jets at 104 and the Browns at 106. These selections of potential landing spots all grouped together at the end of the third and start of the fourth round lead me to believe that's where he'll go. If he goes later than that, somebody will get a steal.