The Browns and the Green Bay Packers met with Missouri defensive end Michael Sam following his workout at his pro day this afternoon, ESPN’s Shelley Smith reported on NFL Insiders.
Sam is famous because he’s the first openly gay NFL Draft prospect. But Sam, the Southeastern Conference’s co-defensive player of the year last season, is trying to draw attention for what he can bring teams on the field.
“I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player,” Sam said last month at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
After running the 40-yard dash in an official time of 4.91 seconds at the combine, Sam had a better showing at his pro day. According to NFLDraftScout.com, he posted an unofficial time of 4.73 seconds today on one attempt. A strained right hamstring kept him from running the 40 a second time.
The 6-foot-2, 263-pound Sam benched pressed 225 pounds 19 times at his pro day after registering 17 reps at the combine. He also posted a 30-inch vertical jump today, 4½ inches higher than he got at the combine.
Although Sam played defensive end in college, he’s aiming to convince teams with 3-4 defenses that he’s versatile enough to play outside linebacker for them. He went through drills designed for defensive ends and outside linebackers during his pro day.
The Browns will run a 3-4, multi-front defense under their new head coach, Mike Pettine.
“It’s interesting that the Packers and the Browns [are meeting with Sam because they] are two 3-4 teams,” ESPN analyst and former general manager Bill Polian said on NFL Insiders. “They are true-blue 3-4 teams, so they’re seeing him as an outside linebacker, as an edge-setter, and he can do that very well. He can set the edge very well. He’s very good against blocks, even big blocks from tackles and people like that. He can collision fullbacks and guards. That’s about the best thing he does. So the question is can they turn him into the kind of outside linebacker pass rusher that they would like him to be in the 3-4.”
Sam, who led the SEC last season in sacks (10½) and tackles for loss (18), performed better in the defensive end drills than the ones geared toward outside linebackers, Polian said.
“He was better with his hand down,” Polian said. “There’s no question about that because he’s used to doing that. When he stands up, that’s something that he’s not used to doing that’ll take some learning for him. So it’s understandable that he won’t look fluid or complete when he does it. But he does have power. He is a great worker. He’s a guy who really competes, and that goes a long way in the National Football League. So this was not a total loss by any means.
“He was not a first-rounder going in or even a second-rounder going in. People saw that. He performed today the way I saw him perform on tape, so it tells you that he’s very likely to be drafted, and then depending upon which team he goes to, [that will determine] whether he becomes a 3-4 outside linebacker or he’s a rush end in the 4-3. But either way, he’s going to have to make a living on special teams in the early going because that’s what all rookies and backups have to do. He’s not going to come in and start at either position, so he’s going to have to make his money on special teams.”
Polian projects Sam as a third- to sixth-round pick. NFLDraftScout.com projects him as defensive end in the NFL and a fifth- or sixth-round selection.
Outside linebacker is one of the Browns’ deepest positions. Starters Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger form a rotation along with key backups Barkevious Mingo and Quentin Groves.
So on paper, it wouldn’t make much sense for the Browns to draft Sam because he might be best suited to play defensive end in a 4-3 defense, and outside linebacker isn’t one of their pressing needs.
Pettine, though, made it clear that Sam being gay wouldn’t preclude the Browns from drafting him.
“I applaud what he did,” Pettine said at the combine. “In the NFL, it’s a results business. Can Michael Sam help the Cleveland Browns win? If he can, then there’s a good chance he’ll be a part of our football team.”