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Before Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced earlier this year that he was gay, he was projected as perhaps a third-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Over the following months however, an underwhelming tryout and skepticism about whether he would be a "distraction" in the NFL pushed him further down the draft board. Sam has slipped so far in mock draft analysis that there is now a legitimate question about whether or not he'll even make it to the pros.
The question was unthinkable back in February. Sam had just been named co-defensive player of the year in the defense-first SEC. Yet when he came out as gay, he immediately plummeted on draft boards; one ranking dropped him 70 spots overnight. Anonymous execs and scouts flatly stated his homosexuality was a concern, with one saying he would "chemically imbalance" the locker room.
But for all the focus on his sexuality, Sam's on-field skills also raised red flags. He's small for his position and showed pedestrian speed and athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine, leaving scouts with little to praise beyond his "hustle."
Though Sam is still projected as a late-round pick, that doesn't guarantee he'll hear his name called. As Nate Silver noted in an analysis of pre-draft projections from years past, about half of players rated in the same vicinity as Sam weren't drafted.