The most talked about player heading into the NFL Scouting Combine was unquestionably Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Most of that buzz was due to his announcement that he was the first openly gay draft prospect, but it didn't take long for talk to cut through that. In a bottom-line business, the question for most around the league became what could he do on the field for NFL teams.
Though he drew the media coverage of a first-round pick, a poor showing in Indianapolis had several scouts questioning if the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year would even be drafted. Sam had a chance to boost his stock at Missouri's pro day on Thursday and, despite a hamstring issue, he performed well in both the testing and on-field work.
How well though? Opinions seem to remain split.
"Running 4.68 ... that helped out a lot. Jumping 30 inches instead of 25 (at the combine) that helps also," NFL Media analyst Charles Davis said on NFL Network's "Path to the Draft" Thursday. "How much it changes his grade and how much it moves him up in the draft? That's questionable. I think he's still a sixth-round draft choice at the high side. A lot of people may have lower grades than that."
The 6-foot-1 Sam figures to wind up as a pass-rushing defensive end at the next level after terrorizing quarterbacks in the SEC last season. The extra speed and explosiveness he displayed at his pro day could be enough for some teams to reevaluate one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft.
"I definitely think he helped himself," analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on "Path to the Draft". "It would have been tough to pull (Sam's) card off with that 4.91. That 4.68 that some teams had him run makes it a lot easier. Some teams had him in the seventh round, maybe he moves up to the sixth. Some teams might have had him undrafted. I think now he's in consideration to get drafted. I thought he had a good day and he definitely helped himself."
NFL Media reporter Albert Breer said that there were more than 150 media members at the Tigers' facility and an equally large number of NFL personnel for the pro day. While the interest level is significant for a potential late-round pick, NFL teams will have to continue to evaluate how Sam fits on their football team in all phases of the game.
"I think this comes down to whether he will be a good special-teams player," Jeremiah added. "I think that's a huge deal."
"I think there's no question somebody will draft Michael Sam," said Davis. "He may not have the best numbers in the world but he's going to get an opportunity."
It might not seem promising at the moment given all of the negative talk about where he goes in the draft, but a shot is likely all Sam is looking for in the NFL.