|Class:||RS Senior||40 time:||N/A|
If you’d asked virtually anyone before the season which SEC defensive lineman was going to be leading the nation in sacks after eight weeks of play, the answer surely would have been Jadaveon Clowney. Instead, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has come out of nowhere to take the title with nine sacks thus far.
Sam hasn’t been considered an NFL-quality player prior to this season. After playing in every game for the past three years, Sam had racked up 9.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles — effective, but nothing close to the electrifying force that he’s become.
Perhaps one thing that prevented Sam from becoming a big name was that he had always been a member of a big defensive line rotation. He still spends a rather large amount of time off the field while yielding plays to fellow defensive end Markus Golden, though he’s been incredibly efficient with the time that he’s been given this year.
Some believe that Sam is undersized and will have difficulty transitioning to the NFL. This shouldn’t keep him from achieving success, however, as the worst-case scenario for him would be a move to 3-4 outside linebacker. Premium pass rushers such as Von Miller, Clay Matthews, and Brian Orakpo have all achieved success after measuring in at 6-foot-3 or shorter.
On the flip side, three things bode very well for Sam in his quest to become a high pick.
First, Sam is on pace right now to lead the Football Bowl Subdivision in sacks. With the exception of Clemson‘s Da’Quan Bowers, who was projected by some draftniks to be the first overall pick before he underwent knee surgery and fell to the second round, every player who has led the FBS in sacks since 2008 has been taken in the first round.
If Sam continues his pace, it’s highly likely that he’ll at least be considered as a first-rounder, especially with the ever-growing need for pass rushers.
Secondly, Sam is coming out of a college program that has become revered for developing quality pass rushers. The Pittsburgh Steelers‘ Ziggy Hood, C.J. Mosley of the Detroit Lions, Sheldon Richardson of the New York Jets, and Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers were all developed by Mizzou defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, and Richardson and Smith are legitimate stars. There’s no reason to believe that Sam can’t be just as serviceable.
Lastly, it’s very impressive that Sam is as good as he is in the SEC, which is widely considered to be the best conference in the country. He picked up three sacks last week against Florida and ran back a fumble for a touchdown, so he’s definitely proven that his success isn’t just due to poor competition.
While Sam’s size may prevent him from going in the first round, he’s given himself a great shot at going within the first two. His speed and athletic ability should help him out at the combine and will give him the flexibility to make an easy transition to 3-4 outside linebacker if necessary. At this point, it would be surprising if Sam wasn’t taken during the early rounds.
- Gets great leverage and shifts weight perfectly
- Accelerates very well behind line of scrimmage
- Fantastic sideline-to-sideline speed
- Very diversified with pass rushing experience; lines up at both end and tackle, in two-point, three-point, and four-point stance; should be comfortable as a 3-4 OLB considering his experience rushing from a two-point stance up the middle in 2012
- Takes great angles on run plays, is generally a very good run defender unless he gets knocked out of the play
- Viewed as undersized
- Tends to overpursue and get left in the backfield
- Tackling form isn’t great
- Undisciplined as a run defender; loses contain and gets eaten up by offensive linemen too often
It’s difficult to complain about Sam’s efforts thus far. Along with Clemson’s Vic Beasley, he leads Division I-A in sacks with nine for a total of 54 yards lost. Sam also leads the Tigers with 13 tackles for loss. He’s been arguably the best player on a fifth-ranked Mizzou team that is now atop the SEC East, so he should continue to climb up draft boards.
2014 Draft Projection: Second Round