So the Dallas Cowboys signed Michael Sam. If you’ve been under a rock in 2014 you might not know that Sam will be the first person to start his NFL career as an openly gay man.
He’s not the first gay player in the NFL, not by a long shot, but he’s the first the media has been allowed to latch onto. This is a much bigger media story than an NFL story, frankly, as it’s been over 40 years since Vince Lombardi said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I don’t care about anything about a player, only whether he can play or not.”
Several ex-players have come out after their career, and their experience in the locker room has generally reflected the same attitude from their peers. At the NFL level especially, it’s a business, and a good player helps everyone make money and a mediocre player costs money. If teammates think a player can help their team win more playoff games, then even a Michael Vick becomes acceptable.
The problem with the comparisons of Michael Sam to pioneers such as Jackie Robinson is that Sam is at best an average NFL player. Yeah, I know the SEC is the best conference in college football and that Sam was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. However, while college production is important, but does not necessarily translate to the NFL. Tim Tebow is a perfect example.
Let’s look at Sam as an NFL prospect first. Here’s his spider chart:
A spider chart graphs a player in comparison to all of the other players at his position in a given draft class in terms of where in the percentile he falls. To make things easier, the amount which he is superior to his peers is highlighted in gray. A big area means he’s got a lot of measurable physical superiority to his peers. A small area means he does not. You’ll note that Sam’s is small, in fact one of the smallest gray areas I’ve seen on spider charts.
He was a very good college player, but his physical traits are far less than average. This is a problem when everyone else is faster and stronger and quicker and bigger than you are used to.
This spider chart is why I told people not to be surprised if he’s not drafted at all, and if he is, it will be late.
Unfortunately for Sam he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Why is that unfortunate? Well, it’s because the Rams are deep at his position. He really never had a chance to make their roster because he’s simply not good enough compared to the rest of the players at his position on the Rams.
But the Cowboys are a different story. They were shallow there to begin with, and their primary guy, DeMarcus Lawrence, broke his foot in training camp.
Sam is too small at 261lbs and too slow at 4.91 40-time to really fit the Cowboys scheme, but there’s always a place for an extra pass-rusher on third and long.
So, at the cost of nothing but a practice squad place, the Cowboys are going to kick his tires. He has shown skill at getting to the QB, and it is a *skill*, but he may simply not have the physical tools to succeed at this level. We’ll find out.
At this cost, he’s worth a shot, but it’s still a long one.
Fortunately for the media, they’ll have something to write about whether he succeeds or fails.
And hey, it’s all about the media, right?