Michael Sam put together some good tape as a senior at Missouri in 2013. It would have been impossible not to while finishing as an All-American with 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks as a senior.
Sam often got into the backfield with his first step and high motor to finish a play out. He was particularly destructive against Arkansas State, Vanderbilt and Florida early in the season. Against each he had three sacks. Most of those sacks came due to Sam's speed and ability to get around the edge using a rip move. That's his predominant move, and obviously he'll have to continue adding to his repertoire.
The rip is a move that clearly worked well for Sam in college, but NFL blockers will be able to work him around the corner and push him out of the play.
Playing the run, Sam is most effective when he can split between blockers, fire through a gap and make play near or behind the line of scrimmage. He shows good awareness to find the ball and hustles to get to it.
Following the season, Sam was invited to participate in the Senior Bowl. While there, he was converted from defensive end to linebacker. The shift to linebacker was one of the bigger storylines to follow in Mobile, Ala. In individual and team drills he often struggled making the transition. Coaches from the Atlanta Falcons, the team in charge of North practices, got on Sam several times about being out of place or dropping improperly in coverage. From our Senior Bowl wrap-up:
Sam struggled this week. He's a thick 260 pounds, especially in his legs. This week Sam didn't get to show off his best asset, which is rushing the passer. In space, he looked uncomfortable. A team that drafts him as a linebacker will have to put in a lot of work.
In the Senior Bowl game, Sam did get to showcase his pass rush ability some, finishing the game with a sack. But his deficiencies during practices far outweighed whatever he did in the game. So much so that he shouldn't be viewed as a linebacker prospect moving forward. That limitation is a major strike against Sam's draft stock in that most 3-4 teams won't have a role for him.
Our most recent top 200 big board was largely constructed before Sam had his issues at the Senior Bowl. He's currently rated as the No. 128 player overall.
At the Senior Bowl, Sam measured just shy of 6-foot-2 with a 33 1/4-inch reach. He doesn't have the size teams typically often look for in an every down 4-3 defensive end. Of course, there have been exceptions, namely Elvis Dumervil and Dwight Freeney. While his game is built on speed, he doesn't seem to be quite at Dumervil or Freeney's level. He'll have to add some variety to his pass rush, and that will come with time.
The ideal situation for Sam could be the Seattle Seahawks. Defensive end Cliff Avril may have priced himself out of returning to the Super Bowl champions. Since he projects as an early Day 3 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Sam would be an inexpensive replacement for Avril. Besides, if any team has shown it can handle the media maelstrom, it is Seattle.