Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay NFL draft prospect Sunday night, projects as a fourth- or fifth-round draft pick and has a skill set similar to Philadelphia Eagles pass rusher Trent Cole, according to NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah.
Jeremiah told NFL AM that Sam (6-foot-2, 255 pounds) projects as a DPR (designated pass rusher), and that proving he has the ability to play on first and second down in the NFL will be among the things he will look to show at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month. Jeremiah noted three strengths in Sam's game: his hustle on the field, the strength of his hands in pass-rushing situations, and his high level of production in the SEC.
"He doesn't have a clean position in either the 4-3, or the 3-4. He's a little undersized to be a defensive end. You question his athleticism to play linebacker. To me, he's a pure pass rusher, which, there is a lot of value for that, but for me, that puts him in that fourth-, fifth-round area," Jeremiah said. "... I want to see how he runs (at the combine), how well he runs will be important. But I want to see him in the linebacker drills, how he moves around. There are some questions when you watch him on tape, you worry a little but about him being tight in the ankles, tight in the hips. He's going to have to transition to linebacker, you're going to have to drop and cover and do some things in that area. I'd like to see him do that at the combine."
Although Jeremiah, a former Eagles scout, said Sam isn't quite as talented as Cole, their styles are similar.
"Trent is also a little tight in the ankles, tight in the hips, but he's got explosive hands and he plays with a relentless motor, and it's served him well and the Eagles well during his NFL career," Jeremiah said.
A career mirroring Cole's would certainly make a fourth- or fifth-round pick on Sam a bargain for any NFL club. Cole has recorded 79 career sacks and has missed just three games in a nine-year NFL career, all with the Eagles. Cole is slightly bigger than Sam at 6-3, 270 pounds, and played collegiately at Cincinnati.
Jeremiah said that in his experience relaying scouting observations to higher-level personnel executives, he wouldn't expect a prospect's sexual orientation to be a big part of an evaluation.
"I think you would bring it up briefly. But I don't think you'd spend much time on it. I know I wouldn't. I would spend more time trying to sell him as a football player, and how he can help us win football games," Jeremiah said. "Time is limited when you are in those meetings. They like to keep them moving. To me, I think the more important issue is, 'How does fit into our football team, and can he help us win games.'"
Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.