Monday, May 12, 2014
Making roster will be tough task for Sam
By Nick Wagoner
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In nearly every possible way -- except one -- defensive end Michael Sam's fit in St. Louis should be easy and comfortable.
But the exception is a big one, the one that matters most when it comes to Sam's long-term future in the NFL.
For any defensive end, whether added through free agency or in the 2014 NFL draft, cracking the Rams' two-deep depth chart at defensive end figures to be a difficult task. For Sam, a seventh-round pick who doesn't come with the "find him a place to play" pedigree of say South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, it's going to be even tougher.
Put aside Sam working to become the first openly gay player to make an NFL roster after the Rams used the 249th overall selection on him Saturday night, he's joining one of the league's most crowded defensive line rooms, particularly when it comes to his position on the edge.
“Well, it’s going to be very competitive for him, as it will be for some of the other guys, the later picks, because of the depth and the talent level at the position," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He’s going to have to come in, and like the rest of his new teammates, these rookies, they’re not in shape. Not in the condition our veterans are in. He’s going to have to work to get in great shape and we'll blend him in the offseason program and we’ll go.”
Forget for a moment that Sam is a seventh-round pick in an 11-man draft class and there's no guarantee any of the team's four seventh-round selections will make the roster. Looking closer at the quartet sitting in front of him, Sam has his work cut out for him.
Here's what each of the four players in front of Sam brings to the table:
- Robert Quinn is the reigning Pro Football Writer's NFL defensive player of the year, a first-team All Pro and coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. Quinn had 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2013.
- Chris Long is the most tenured veteran on the team, entering his seventh season in the league. Since his arrival in 2008, Long has 50.5 sacks, which is sixth among defensive ends in that period.
- William Hayes is one of the most productive backup ends in the league and is paid as such, receiving a three-year deal for $10.5 million in the 2013 offseason. Hayes, who has often moved inside on passing downs, has averaged six sacks per season the past two years and is one of the better run defenders among ends in the league.
- Eugene Sims might be the least acknowledged of the group, but like Hayes, possesses the versatility to play all over the line. He, too, was rewarded with a two-year contract extension last offseason.
But just because Sam is joining a crowded and talented group doesn't mean all hope is lost.
Of the 48 players drafted in the seventh round in 2013, 47 were on an active roster -- though not many seventh-rounders make the game-day active roster. Over the past five years, 240 players have been picked in the seventh round, 60 of them played in Week 1 as rookies.
Although the Rams have a solid quartet in front of Sam, there's also no guarantee they'll only keep four at the position. Fisher's affinity for defensive linemen, especially pass-rushers, has seen the Rams carry more than a simple two-deep.
In 2012, the Rams carried nine defensive linemen into the opening week of the season though they had an extra body at tackle, not end.
Last year, however, the Rams went heavy on defensive ends, carrying nine linemen with a fifth end for 14 games.
Undrafted rookie Gerald Rivers was that fifth end and on the roster for 13 games before injuries at other positions near the end of the season led to his release. Rivers was only active for two of those 13 games but made the roster as a result of his pass-rush abilities.
Sammy Brown, a pass-rushing type who the Rams stashed on the practice squad most of the year, was called up for the final game of the season but was inactive.
In keeping an extra end, the Rams have seemingly preferred noticeable upside as a pass rusher but as with all late-round picks, special teams value might be the golden ticket to the 53-man roster.
Contributions in that regard will be part of the plan for Sam.
"He will," Fisher said. "Everybody that we selected [Saturday], with the exception of the big guys, will make some kind of contribution to our special teams.”
Many have wondered if there will be additional pressure on the Rams or any team drafting Sam to keep him for fear of public backlash. Fisher quickly put that to rest when asked about it Saturday.
“I would say no because we picked him within the process and we’re going to reduce this roster within the process," Fisher said. "So, I don’t see that being an issue.”
Fisher and general manager Les Snead insist Sam was drafted for purely football reasons. Those same reasons will make it difficult for him to stay.