What are the chances that Michael Sam could be in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform next season?
If the Steelers draft the Missouri defensive end, it wouldn’t be for the sake of having the NFL’s first openly gay player, it would be for the sake of an aging defense that declined rapidly in 2013.
That brings us to the only question that really matters when it comes to Michael Sam. Can he help the Steelers?
Sam is projected to be taken in the third or fourth round of the NFL draft, according to NFL Draft Scout. He was the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, leading the conference with 18 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks during the regular season. He added a sack and a forced fumble in Missouri’s 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked the Steelers defense 19th overall in the NFL last season. The Steelers can’t ignore someone with Sam’s credentials. However, at 6’2″, 260 pounds, he’s too small to play defensive end in the Steelers’ 3-4 alignment. If the Steelers took him, he would have to convert to outside linebacker.
The Steelers are far from set at outside linebacker, even if they re-sign Jason Worilds. Jarvis Jones had just one sack in his rookie season and needs to make a ton of progress in his second year. LaMarr Woodley can’t stay healthy. Beyond that on the depth chart is Chris Carter. The Steelers have more pressing needs in the secondary and on the defensive line, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they took an outside linebacker who can get to the quarterback.
Sam’s height and weight are similar to that of Worilds, who was a defensive end when the Steelers took him in the second round of the 2010 draft. The Steelers converted Worilds to linebacker and he had a breakout season in 2013.
Based on NFL Draft Scout’s assessment, moving Sam to outside linebacker would be a project. The Sporting News and SI.com both say that he doesn’t have a wide array of pass-rushing moves. According to The Sporting News he was a non-factor during Senior Bowl week.
SI.com says Sam has 4.7 speed in the 40-yard dash and that he’s not particularly powerful, and he rarely drops back into to coverage.
Both outlets agree that the media swarm that comes with the NFL’s first openly gay player could work against Sam on draft day and be a “tiebreaker” if a team is choosing between him and another player when they’re on the clock.
Sam has a sharp resume, but based on his deficiencies and his body type, he doesn’t seem like an ideal fit for the Steelers defense. There are prospects in the early and middle rounds who can help them more.
However, Sam could drop into the later rounds if teams don’t think he’s worth the headaches. If that happens, the Steelers might take a closer look at him. Let’s say the Steelers give Sam a fourth-round grade and he drops to the sixth round. He’d be considered a good value in that case, and the Steelers would be more likely to draft him.
The NFL draft, which will be held May 8-10 this year, has become a television event. There are plenty of pigskin-brained fanatics glued to their TV screens on the second and third day of the draft. More casual fans would rather enjoy the spring weather than watch players they’ve never heard of get drafted.
Now, almost everyone has heard of Michael Sam. There might be a few more eyes than usual on the Friday-night and Saturday-afternoon portions of the draft. People will want to see which team drafts the NFL’s first openly gay player.
Don’t look for the Steelers to do it until at least the sixth round.