Why Michael Sam Might Not Be Drafted

One of the big names at this week's NFL Draft is Michael Sam, the SEC's co-Defensive Player of the Year who came out as gay. Some around the NFL think there's a chance he will go undrafted for reasons other than his sexual orientation.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

This week, the NFL will hold its annual draft of college players. And if one name has risen beyond the sports pages, it's Michael Sam who will become the first openly gay player in an NFL locker room. Last season at the University of Missouri, Sam was an All-American and a co-defensive MVP of the toughest conference in college football. But some draft watchers say there's a chance Michael Sam won't be drafted at all. Here's NPR producer Phil Harrell.

PHIL HARRELL, BYLINE: For each position, the NFL looks for certain ideal physical traits. Quarterbacks should have 10-inch hands, wide receivers should run a 40-yard dash in under 4.6 seconds. Well, Michael Sam played defensive end in college a full three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than the NFL prototype, likely too small to succeed in the pros, they say. And as he showed in recent workouts, he appears too un-athletic to convert to the more fleet linebacker position. The NFL has a word for that.

DANIEL JEREMIAH: He's a tweener. He's a classic tweener.

HARRELL: Or, someone caught between two positions. That was Daniel Jeremiah. He's a former NFL scout for three different teams. He's now one of the analysts on the NFL Network's "Path to the Draft." He says scouts have to look past college production despite Michael Sam's leading the southeastern conference in quarterback sacks.

JEREMIAH: Although it's good college football, it's not the NFL. He's not going to be able to overpower some of these NFL tackles the way he did at Missouri. If I was going to guess, the chances are more likely he will get drafted in that sixth, seventh round, but I wouldn't just dismiss the possibility of him going undrafted. I think it's a real thing.

HARRELL: That would mean 256 players would be chosen instead of Michael Sam. Beyond whatever physical limitations he may have, there's also the question of how an NFL locker room will receive its first openly gay player. Now publicly, most players have said they'd welcome him. But some have expressed concern. In an interview with the NFL Network's Andrea Kramer before Michael Sam's announcement, former Saint's linebacker Jonathan Vilma wondered if a theoretical openly gay player would fit in.

JONATHAN VILMA: I imagine if he's the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking the shower, the whole nine and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?

HARRELL: Vilma has since clarified that statement. He says he'd be fine with a gay teammate but since the NFL hasn't been put in that situation before, he wonders how it will affect locker room cohesion. Well, consider Sam's impact in college.

WADE DAVIS: He debunked a bunch of different myths.

HARRELL: Wade Davis is a former pro who came out as gay after his playing career was over. He's been advising the NFL on diversity issues. Davis points out that Michael Sam came out to his Missouri teammates before last season started. And they finished with a 12 and 2 record and won the Cotton Bowl. Also consider where he played.

DAVIS: We often think that the Midwest and the South are homophobic. That school formed a human barrier around him when the Westborough Baptist Church showed up, right? So I think that when we look at the Michael Sam story we can go, wow, we may have this wrong.

HARRELL: Nevertheless, Sports Illustrated found eight unnamed coaches and executives who said that Michael Sam's coming out will negatively affect his draft stock. At least six teams have expressed genuine interest in signing Sam though. As the Baltimore Sun reports, whether or not he's drafted Michael Sam will be in an NFL camp this summer. And earlier this year when he came out publicly to ESPN's Chris Connelly, he made his case.

MICHAEL SAM: I am a team player. I can make plays. I can help teams win games. And that's all that should matter.

HARRELL: Phil Harrell, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: Coming up, Kurt Braunohler once landed a major movie audition. There was just one condition.

KURT BRAUNOHLER: The very first thing the director says to me is, so we understand you can speak fluent German.

RATH: Not exactly true.

BRAUNOHLER: (Foreign language spoken)

RATH: That's coming up in the next part of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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