Missouri defensive end Shane Ray was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 23rd pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. If there were any question about Michael Sam dropping in the 2014 NFL Draft because he's gay, that question was answered tonight.
The similarities between the two players are striking, yet while Sam was selected in the seventh round with the 249th pick, Ray was picked 226 spots higher. Not only that, but the Broncos traded their first round pick, two fifth round picks and a player to get Ray. Sam wasn't even worth one of those fifth round picks to any NFL team.
How telling is that? Just take a look at the similarities between the two players.
The two men played the same position at the same school - Missouri. They played in the same system for the same head coach. At the same position at the same school in the same system under the same head coach, the two men - of nearly identical stature - performed nearly identically.
They even have their own "distractions" following them headed into the Draft. While Sam is gay, Ray has been charged with drug possession in the last week. Of course, to the NFL drug possession is no big deal. Being gay costs you at least three rounds in the Draft.
Want to know just how similar these two players are? Let's start by comparing the physical stats of the men:
Height: Ray is a little over 6-foot-2, maybe an inch taller than Sam.
Weight: Ray is 249 pounds, about 10 pounds lighter than Sam.
Arms: Ray measures at 33 1/8", shorter than Sam's arms.
Hands: Ray's 9" hands are smaller than Sam's.
So Ray is slightly taller, but in every other category he's smaller than Sam. While Sam is "too small to play defensive end," Ray (at 10 pounds lighter) is the perfect size. Some might say "Well Ray can play OLB in a 3-4 defense," but at least one NFL scout said, "No way in hell he can be an outside 'backer."
No chance the talent between these two men is separated by 226 picks.
Not convinced? Let's look at the drill performances of the two players' Combine and Pro Days:
40-yard-dash: Ray ran a 4.68 on his first attempt at his Pro Day (didn't run at the Combine), and Sam ran a 4.73 on his first attempt (injured his hamstring so didn't have a second attempt) at his Pro Day.
Bench press: Ray did 21 reps, up from Sam's 19.
Vertical leap: Ray jumped 33 inches, which was three inches higher than Sam's 30.
Ray was better than Sam in each category, no question. He was anywhere from 1% to 10% better. The analysis leading up to the Draft offered a tepid response to Ray's measurables, just as they did with Sam a year earlier. Tim Daniels at Bleacher Report offered this analysis of Ray's Pro Day:
"He's a fringe top-10 prospect as things stand right now. The high number of teams looking for edge-rushers should ensure he doesn't go through any type of significant slide on draft day. A team just needs to feel confident he can fit its system. His pro day should have helped alleviate some of those concerns."
Rob Rang from CBS Sports talked about the comparison of Ray's Pro Day to the Combine of Vic Beasley, who had one of the great Combine performances ever: "Ray fell short of Beasley's numbers Thursday but his production on the field speaks loudest."
NFL Network's Mike Mayock: "What does that all mean when we translate away from that? The bottom line is his tape is way better than his measurables, and that's the most important thing."
So with Sam, who came out as gay two weeks before the Combine, the storyline woven by TV experts was: "Great college players don't necessarily turn into good NFL players."
Ray got the benefit of the doubt: "Just look at his college performance and you know why he's a top NFL prospect."
On top of the drill stats, let's look at the college performances of these two players. With nearly identical physical attributes and drill stats, this is the icing on the cake:
Sacks: Ray had 19 career sacks at Missouri to Sam's 18.5
Tackles: Ray had 120, nine more than Sam.
Forced fumbles: Both players had five.
Interceptions: Sam had two. Ray had none.
Scoring: Sam scored two defensive touchdowns, Ray had one.
Awards: Both men were the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Sam was also a Consensus All-American.
The two men had virtually the same college statistics, with Ray at most besting Sam's stats by 8% (and Sam beating him out on big plays like interceptions and scores).
After Sam's Combine and Pro Day, he was suddenly too small, too slow and everyone had forgotten his stellar senior season. Yet after Ray's Pro Day, everyone was supposed to forget his drill stats and focus on his production in college.
That is the definition of "double standard."
To be sure, there are differences between the two players. Ray is likely more able to fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker (though there's certainly doubt if he can fit there), whereas Sam is locked in primarily as a 4-3 defensive end. Sam was projected somewhere around the third round before he came out, while Ray has been a first-round projection for a while.
Yet the wide discrepancy between the draft positions of these two men does not reflect their minuscule differences in size, strength, speed and college production. If there was any doubt that Sam fell in the 2014 NFL Draft because he came out as gay, there is no doubt anymore after the selection of Ray.