Four thoughts on Michael Sam and whether or not he’d fit with Patriots
|02.10.14 at 4:41 pm ET|
Four thoughts on Michael Sam from a Patriots perspective:
1. The Patriots have always been all about football. That much was clear this past season, as they had to deal with several potential distractions but a strong culture of leadership in the locker room helped keep the roster focused. On the surface, it would appear New England would be better prepared to deal with the increased media presence and scrutiny that would come with having Sam on their roster than some other teams. (CNN carried Bill Belichick‘s press conference live after Tim Tebow was signed by the Patriots.) There’s also the matter of having a steady and consistent coaching staff and front office that would be able to deal with any sort of locker room issues — and questions from players — that would arise because of Sam’s presence. You also would need a coaching staff, front office and ownership group that would be on the same page when it came to making the move, a group that’s consistent in its approach and tone. That would certainly appear to be the case in New England. (Just ask owner Robert Kraft.) On the surface, other teams that stand out in this regard include (but are not limited to) Pittsburgh, Seattle, San Francisco and Green Bay.
2. From a pure football perspective, Sam is an intriguing prospect. At 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, he’s an undersized edge rusher who some have compared favorably to Elvis Dumervil. While he’s shown an ability to get after the quarterback over the last year-plus while he was at Missouri, history tells us that the Patriots prefer their edge rushers to be longer and leaner — think Chandler Jones and Willie McGinest as opposed to Dumervil or James Harrison. That being said, if he goes to the combine and shows an ability to play in space (that is to say, flash the sort of ability needed to make a transition from college defensive end to outside linebacker at the NFL level) that changes things. At that spot, he would need to be able to display versatility, which would include dropping into coverage as well as rushing the passer. If he can do that, he will increase in value when it comes to the Patriots. Two other things worth noting when it comes to evaluating Sam as a potential Patriot: One, if he’s able to show special teams value, that would likely increase the possibility of him being drafted by New England. And two, if he could show flexibility needed to become an inside linebacker, that could work.)
3. When it comes to approaching the draft, the Patriots have single picks in the first, second, third and fourth rounds. They don’t have a fifth-round pick (dealt to Philly as part of the Isaac Sopoaga trade), but have two sixths and one in the seventh. That’s seven choices, plus any possible compensatory picks. From a practical perspective, the Patriots have a handful of areas they would like to address in this draft — most notably, tight end and the interior of their defensive line. There’s also the possibility of them adding depth at wide receiver and in the secondary. While Sam is technically listed as a lineman, he’s likely too undersized to be considered an interior lineman. Instead, he’d be a defensive end/outside linebacker (Belichick has called them end-of-the-line players), and would be in a fight for playing time behind Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones — a group that currently includes Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanan and Andre Carter, although Carter is a free agent. It’s a fairly deep spot for New England, and one that could be addressed in free agency.
4. When it comes to New England’s assessment of Sam, the combine interview likely will play a huge role. Presumably, that will be the first opportunity for several members of the Patriots coaching staff and front office to get a chance to sit down with Sam. In the past, Patriots personnel chief Nick Caserio has said the combine interview is a large part of the process and can be a determining factor in whether or not they target a prospect in the draft.