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Michael Sam, a star linebacker at the University of Missouri, will enter the NFL draft this spring. He was expected to be picked in the middle to late rounds, that is before he publicly acknowledged yesterday that he is gay. This is not news to his teammates at Missouri, where Sam played a vital role in the team's success. The Tigers finished the season ranked fifth in the nation.
If Michael Sam makes an NFL team, he will be the first active, openly gay player in pro football history.
NPR's Mike Pesca looks at how Sam's announcement could affect his draft prospects.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: In the last 24 hours, dozens of current and former NFL players publicly declared their support for Michael Sam via Twitter. One or two were somewhat disparaging. Those were the public conversations. Andrew Brandt, former vice president of the Green Bay Packers, has been in draft rooms and knows how the other real conversations will go.
ANDREW BRANDT: What is going to happen during those conversations behind closed doors where they say: If a team that needs a defensive lineman, we get to this round, he's there, what are we going to do? What are we going to do compared to another defensive lineman similarly talented, similarly skilled but without the stuff? And that's what I worry about.
PESCA: Brandt knows that decision-makers are risk-averse and insist on near anonymity for all but the team's best players. Sam will command attention, will generate interview requests, will become the player that even non-fans associate with the franchise. It will worry teams, Brandt says, that Sam will become a distraction.
BRANDT: When I speak of distraction, it's a pejorative term. And here's the problem: teams are going to look at this and say there's positives. But for a player that's probably going to start out as a backup player, teams are going to have to think about that.
PESCA: Sam was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. The last seven SEC Defensive Players of the Year have been first-round picks, with most actually going in the top 10.
Dan Kadar, the NFL draft editor of SB Nation, says Sam was projected to be a mid-round draftee.
DAN KADAR: We had him rated number 128 overall.
PESCA: Kadar says Sam as a player is fairly easy to figure out. He has one main attribute, speed, but is a little short for his position. It would not be unprecedented for a player who's expected to be taken in the fourth or fifth round, to actually wind up undrafted. But Kadar says in Sam's case, it would be kind of surprising.
KADAR: Just on paper and watching what he can do on the field, you can do something with him. I mean he's quick. I mean he's short but he's quick and he has long arms. So those are some of the things you look for in a pass rusher, so why not take a chance?
PESCA: Even if, as Brandt says, most teams really are scared off, all a player needs is for one to buck that mindset. If 31 teams think they'll be drafting a distraction, the one that does select Sam will think they're getting a great bargain.
Mike Pesca, NPR News.
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