Two more University of Missouri football standouts heard their names called Saturday on the final day of the 2014 NFL Draft, as CB E.J. Gaines (Independence, Mo.) and DE Michael Sam (Hitchcock, Texas) were both taken by the St. Louis Rams. Sam was seven picks away from becoming the “Mr. Irrelevant” pick, which goes to the last player selected in the draft. That in itself would have been ironic, given the media fire that started when Sam announced he was gay. Just being drafted makes him one of the most relevant players of this draft class.
I still believe the fact that Sam was picked seven from the bottom shows the NFL has a long way to go on how it handles homosexuality in their game. Anwar Richardson of Yahoo Sports tweeted Saturday that the previous seven SEC defensive players of the year were all drafted in the first round…Sam, who won the honor this past season, was still waiting for his name to be called late in the first round.
Its clear that NFL teams do no want to deal with the outside distractions and extra media attention that Sam will bring early to their team. Regardless of how poorly Sam did in his workouts, the top defensive player in the best conference in college football doesn’t go from a projected mid-third round pick to a near free agent.
There’s no denying that Sam didn’t do well at the NFL Combine and his pro day workouts…those results should have been better, but looking at some of the other names of outside linebackers and defensive end chosen ahead of Sam threw up red flags for me as to why Sam wasn’t selected sooner. (I think Sam is one of those hybrid players who is too small for defensive end and will most likely make a living in the NFL as an outside linebacker).
Kudos to the Rams, who had three extra picks near the end of the draft, for their selection of Sam. While there will be media hype, the St. Louis market is well aware of Sam already as a former Missouri Tiger, so once the initial blitz ends from outside media, the local St. Louis media will put a stop to the “gay player” questions and focus more the team. This is great situation for Sam because he has two former teammates at Mizzou who will be with him in the locker room…Gaines and recently signed free agent T.J. Moe.
“Surprised he was there in the seventh round,” said head coach Jeff Fisher. “When you look at the ability and the grade and our ability…we were able to take advantage of the compensatory picks there. That’s a football player with ability that you just can’t pass up. We discussed it privately with (Rams Chief Operating Officer/Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Kevin (Demoff) and (Rams Owner) Mr. (Stan) Kroenke and felt like it was the right thing to do at the right time.”
Fisher also points out that the Rams franchise is no stranger to historic moments in sports.
“The Rams in 1946, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but we were the first NFL team to sign an African-American player a year before Jackie Robinson signed the baseball contract, is what I was told,” said Fishter. “So from that standpoint, from a historic standpoint, I’m honored to be a part of that as Les and Kevin and Mr. Kroenke are. Again, Michael’s a good football player and you guys would know if you paid much attention to the response by some of his new teammates, but they’re pretty excited to have him in the building.”
As far as E.J. Gaine, a 2013 1st-Team All-SEC performer, he was taken with the 12th pick in the 6th round by the Rams (#188 selection overall), He and Sam became the third and fourth Tigers taken in this years’ draft, joining MU teammates Kony Ealy (Carolina Panthers) and Justin Britt (Seattle Seahawks), who were both taken in Friday’s second round.
Gaines became the highest-drafted Mizzou cornerback since 1983, when Demetrious Johnson was the #115 overall pick by the Detroit Lions (#3 pick in 5th round).