ST. LOUIS (CBS St. Louis/AP) — Michael Sam believes he should’ve been taken sooner in the draft.
The Rams selected the former University of Missouri defensive standout with the 249th pick in the seventh round, which was the seventh-to-the-last pick in the 2014 Draft. The openly gay football player, who was SEC Defensive Player of the Year, thought a team should have chosen him during the first three rounds.
“From last season alone, I should’ve been in the first three rounds. SEC Defensive Player of the Year, All-American,” Sam said during a conference call, adding that other teams chickened out on selecting him.
The frustration mounted for Sam as the hours and rounds passed by, but he felt he would be picked.
“I knew I was going to get picked somewhere. Every team that passed me, I was thinking how I’m going to sack their quarterback,” Sam said.
Sam stopped short of directly saying his stock dropped in the draft because he came out.
“You know what, who knows? Who knows? Only the people who sit in the war room know,” he said. “They saw Michael Sam, day after day they scratched it off the board. That was their loss. But St. Louis kept me on that board. And you know what I feel like I’m a (Jadeveon) Clowney, a first draft pick. I’m proud of where I am now.”
An NFL.com writer was in the Rams’ draft room and reported late Saturday night that head coach Jeff Fisher unexpectedly suggested taking Sam, a player the team had not given much consideration to before.
Fisher is going into his third season with St. Louis after spending 17 seasons with the Titans franchise.
“We’re in an age of diversity. Players understand that, they know that,” Fisher said. “People will try to make it a distraction but it’s not a distraction.”
Several NFL team officials, though, disagreed with Sam’s assessment that he should’ve been taken sooner. Speaking with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before the draft, they questioned whether Sam’s game can transition to the league.
“Most of his production was hustle stuff,” an NFC personnel official told the Journal Sentinel. “There’s production, but he’s short, he’s not a really good athlete and he doesn’t play good against the run.”
He continued: “He’s kind of a one-task pass rusher. Just run up the field. And they swallow him up and kind of push him around.”
One NFC personnel director stated that Sam doesn’t have a position in the league.
“He’s not a linebacker, and he’s really not a defensive end,” the personnel director told the Journal Sentinel. “I’d certainly take him to camp. You’ve got to admire how hard he plays .”
An AFC executive said Sam was “short and slow.” Sam stands at 6 feet 2 inches and weighs 262 pounds.
Sam came out as gay in media interviews earlier this year. His team and coaches knew his secret and kept it for his final college season. He went on to have the best year of his career: He was the co-defensive player of the year in the nation’s best college football conference and had 11.5 sacks.
“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Sam told The New York Times earlier this year — the first time he had spoken publicly about his sexual orientation.
The pick came after several rounds of suspense. The first round of the day, No. 4 overall, came and went, no Sam. Then the fifth and sixth, and finally, the day was down to just a handful of picks.
When Mike Kensil, the NFL’s vice president of game operations, walked to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in the draft’s final minutes to announce the Rams’ second-to-last pick, the crowd got a sense something was up. Very few of the last day picks were announced at the podium. Twitter lit up with suggestions the Rams were about to make news.
When Kensil said: “The St. Louis Rams select … Michael Sam…” the fans gave a hearty cheer, chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and “Michael Sam!”
Sam was in San Diego watching with friends and family at the home of his agent, Joe Barkett of Empire Athletes. ESPN and the NFL Network had cameras there and showed Sam’s reaction.
Sam was on the phone bending over, with his boyfriend hugging him and rubbing his left bicep. When Sam got off the phone, the tears started. He gave his boyfriend a big kiss and a long hug as he cried and his eyes reddened. After, they shared cake — and another kiss.
The NFL had no comment on Sam being drafted.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)