The 2014 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching on us and as expected, many news stories have been coming out about certain players. UCF Head Coach George O’Leary was recently quoted saying he does not believe that his former quarterback, Blake Bortles, can be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. And then there’s Johnny Manziel. Can this guy clean up his act and become a success in the NFL? He has done a great job staying out of trouble recently and has been seen giving 110% on his football skills in his attempt to be the number one pick in the draft to the Houston Texans. However, none of these stories will ever impact the NFL or our world in the same way that the Michael Sam story will.
By now I am sure that you have heard that 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam announced that he is gay and has the potential to be the first openly active gay player in the NFL (assuming he makes the team, which he should). Sam took a major risk by coming out, especially before the combine let alone the draft. Many people are asking if the NFL is ready for a gay player. I don’t see why not, but I still think it could ultimately hurt his draft stock. He is currently projected as a 3rd-5th round pick. I think the third could be a stretch now because of the media frenzy that will occur. But a mid 4th to early 5th round range could seem fair to me.
From now on all the way up until the regular season (again, assuming Sam makes the team), everyone is going to be wondering how he is going to be welcomed in the locker room and the city he is drafted by. To some it is a shaky topic, but to others it does not matter at all. What everyone seems to be forgetting is that there is one and only one goal in the NFL, to win games. I can guarantee that a team will not be afraid to draft Sam as long as they think he is going to help them win games.
Whomever ends up taking Sam is going to be making one of the best decisions they could possibly make. Maybe he won’t be as talented on other guys on the roster, maybe he stays a back up, but none of that matters. With everything that Sam has gone through and everything he is going to go through, he is going to be by far the toughest player on that team. He will develop leadership skills that cannot be matched and those alone will lead his team to victory. In the same way Jackie Robinson brought Pee Wee Reese and the Brooklyn Dodgers together, I see the same thing happening with Michael Sam and his respective team.
Now the question is, where could Sam go? Sam would probably best be served in a 3-4 defense due to his lack of size. San Diego could be one of the best fits. Not only does California have some of the strongest supporters of same-sex marriages, but the Chargers need to improve their defensive line tremendously. According to footballoutsiders.com, the Chargers had the lowest ranked defensive line in the entire NFL. If the Chargers can draft Manti Te’o, they can easily do the same with Sam.
Another sleeper team could be the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons run a 4-3, but they did have one of the weakest defensive lines in the entire NFL. With Corey Peters injured and the uncertain futures of Osi Umenyiora, Peria Jerry, and Jonathan Babineaux, the Falcons D-Line could be in even worse shape in 2014. Now the Falcons likely will not wait until the later rounds of the draft to pick a defensive lineman (South Carolina Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney has been linked to the Falcons in mock drafts), but another one would never hurt. Mike Nolan is one of the brightest defensive minds in the NFL and would no doubt find a way to put Sam in a successful position. Team him up with new Defensive Line Coach Brian Cox, who has stated he wants tougher players, and you have a recipe for success.
No one can be certain what is in store for Michael Sam or the future of the NFL for that matter. All we can be sure of is that his impact is forever going to change the sport of football and our society as we know it. Maybe his decision to come out will inspire others to do the same. We will just have to wait and see.