On Sunday night, 2013 first-team All-American and reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam announced that he is a gay man. Personally, this does not make a difference to me, but there are already plenty of reports that suggest Sam will fall in the upcoming NFL Draft. Whether it hurts him or not, it took guts for Sam to attempt to become the first openly gay NFL player.
Before this announcement on Sunday night, I thought that Sam would be a great target for the New England Patriots in the middle rounds of the upcoming draft. Considering his sexual orientation has nothing to do with his playmaking ability, I still consider this to be the case. The Patriots struggled to get a pass rush all season long, and it was very apparent in the AFC Championship game, where Peyton Manning was able to pick apart the New England secondary and not worry about pressure around him.
Even though he was dominant at Missouri, Sam was already considered a mid-round prospect because he is undersized for the DE position and has never really played linebacker. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are the two main pass rushers for New England, and both are very versatile players. The Patriots switch back and forth between a three- and four-man front throughout the game. I believe that Sam would fit in well as a backup to Jones and Ninkovich to start, mainly playing on obvious passing downs. The versatility of Jones and especially Ninkovich would allow Sam to do what he does best — rush the passer.
Obviously, if the Patriots draft the first openly gay NFL player, it will be a story, but head coach Bill Belichick will not allow it to be a distraction. The Patriots handled the Tim Tebow media frenzy very well, and I see no reason why they could not handle this.
If other NFL franchises are going to be narrow-minded and the Patriots can land Sam with a fifth-round pick or later, I think they will be getting a steal. Regardless of sexual orientation, the Patriots need pass rushers, and Sam represents one of the best in the draft at a discounted price.