- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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It has nothing to do with the fact Sam is set to become the first openly gay NFL player. It's the fact he doesn't fit into the Ravens' base defense.
Sam struggled in space at the Senior Bowl practices, increasing questions about his ability to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He's also not big enough to line up at end in a 3-4 defense.
So, are the Ravens really interested in Sam? I can see Baltimore valuing Sam as a role player. The Ravens may use one of their last picks (a compensatory pick in the fifth round along with a sixth-round selection) on Sam because they view him as a situational pass-rusher and a core special teams player.
"Any player that has the qualities to be a great player and a good teammate, is a guy that fits us," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said at the NFL combine when asked about Sam. "We're really good at helping players, any player, become a part of our team."
Last season at Missouri, Sam led the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He was named the SEC's co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Sam didn't post an impressive 40-yard time (4.91 seconds) at the combine, but the Ravens weigh a player's motor on film over timed sprints.
The Ravens have bigger needs than outside linebacker. All five of the Ravens' outside linebackers return this season, including Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw. But general manager Ozzie Newsome is always looking to add more pass-rushers.
Rob Rang, a draft analyst for CBS Sports, sees a connection with the Ravens, comparing Sam to Dumervil.
"Few undersized pass-rushers are capable of beating the odds like Dumervil but he's the model optimists will point to in projecting Sam to the NFL," Rang said. "Like Dumervil, Sam has an explosive burst and is more powerful than his relatively short frame might suggest."
Newsome said he doesn't believe Sam would have a problem fitting in the locker room. Sam made headlines in February by disclosing he is gay.
"He's been a good player, he's been in the locker room. It's what you, the media, what are you all going to do with it?" Newsome said at the combine. "I mean, once he gets in and he can rush the quarterback, get the quarterback on the ground and make tackles, he's going to be a good teammate. But the biggest thing is how the media is going to deal with it.
"This is something that's new to the league. We all we have to adapt to it. I think our locker room has had the tendency to adapt to things a lot smoother than maybe the media does."