NEW YORK (AP) — Decision day has arrived for Michael Sam.
The NFL draft will conclude with Rounds 4 through 7 on Saturday, and when and if Sam is selected is sure to be the most significant development.
The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season for Missouri came out as gay in media interviews this year. He told all his teammates and coaches before the season.
Sam would become the NFL’s first openly gay player. The question is: What team will give him that shot, and will he be selected in the draft?
He was thought to be a middle-to-late round draft pick after the season and his stock dropped after a poor combine workout. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Texan is considered a tweener — too small to play defensive line in the pros and not fast enough to be an every down outside linebacker.
“He’ll get you coverage sacks,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He’ll play in the first quarter just like he does in the fourth quarter. 100 percent.”
Sam could end up as an undrafted free agent, which isn’t necessarily a bad way to make it to the NFL.
According to STATS, there were 530 undrafted free agents on NFL rosters during week 17 of last season. There was a total of 404 players on rosters who had been drafted in rounds five through seven, though the pool of undrafted players from year to year is much larger than those drafted in those three rounds.
Sam has said he wants to be evaluated solely on his athletic ability and NFL executives and coaches, all the way up to Commissioner Roger Goodell, have said publicly that will be the case.
Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe said if Sam isn’t drafted it will be fair to ask whether his sexual orientation was the reason why.
“Projectable guys who have to change positions are generally drafted in rounds three through five,” Kluwe said. “A bad combine shouldn’t send him out of the draft. If that’s the precedent and that precedent is not met, then why not?”
Sam is one of a few male athletes who have made headlines by coming out over the last year. NBA veteran Jason Collins was the first. The 35-year-old center came out after the 2012-13 season, but didn’t sign until more than halfway through this season when he latched on with the Brooklyn Nets.
Last month, University of Massachusetts basketball player Derrick Gordon also came out as gay. He has at least one more season left at UMass.
Sam has kept a relatively low-profile leading up to the draft, doing almost no media interviews. He planned to watch Saturday’s selections — there are 156 picks set to be made by the 32 teams — with friends, family and his agent, Joe Barkett of Empire Athletes, in San Diego.
While Sam will dominate the headlines, here are five groups of big-name players still waiting to be drafted.
SEC QUARTERBACKS: AJ McCarron, Alabama; Aaron Murray, Georgia; and Zach Mettenberger, LSU.
Murray and Mettenberger both blew out knees late last season. McCarron is the Heisman Trophy runner-up and two-time national champion.
PAC-12 RUNNING BACKS: Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona; De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon; and Tyler Gaffney, Stanford.
Carey led the nation in rushing in 2012 and was second last season. Thomas is a 170-pound scatback, who can return kicks. Gaffney is a workhorse who carried 330 times and scored 21 touchdowns last season.
PALMETTO STATE RECEIVERS: Bruce Ellington, South Carolina and Martavis Bryant, Clemson.
Ellington is small (5-9), but fast and elusive. Bryant, Sammy Watkins’ running mate this season, is a 6-4 and lanky, a good red-zone target.
SMALL SCHOOL STARS: Caraun Reid, DL, Princeton; Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood; Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State.
Reid is likely to be the first Ivy Leaguer to go. Desir was the top defensive back in Division II. Janis had 3,207 yards receiving the last two seasons in Division II.
SULLIVAN AWARD WINNERS: John Urschel, OG, Penn State.
The 313-pound lineman is in a class by himself. He already has a Master’s degree in mathematics and was named the William V. Campbell Trophy winner as college football’s top scholar-athlete after last season. As he was preparing for the draft, he won the Sullivan Award, which goes to the top amateur athlete in the United States. He was also all-Big Ten and a third-team All-American.