Michael Sam Missouri
Fairly or unfairly, Michael Sam’s announcement has shed light on what was already a very deep defensive end pool. So the question has become: Is Sam one of the best players at his position, or even a sleeper pick come May? Reuters

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has dominated headlines this week after announcing to the world that he is gay, and the co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year will likely be the first openly gay player to don an NFL jersey.

But Sam’s draft stock unfortunately took a hit shortly after his announcement on Sunday, with much of the fall attributed to whether or not teams want to deal with a perceived “media circus” or locker room issues. However, it’s unlikely in the win-now culture of the NFL that a team would pass up on a pass rusher that led the SEC, college football’s premier conference, with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss simply due to more media scrutiny.

Fairly or unfairly, Sam’s announcement has shed light on what was already a very deep defensive end pool. So the question has become: Is Sam one of the best players at his position, or even a sleeper pick come May?

Before the season began South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was already seen as the top prospect overall by numerous draft gurus and analysts, based off the draft-eligible junior’s incredible size and explosiveness off the line.

After Clowney, most experts have Sam’s teammate Kony Ealy as the next best defensive end on the board. Standing at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds., Ealy was tied for third in the SEC with 9.5 sacks and second with 14.5 tackles for a loss for a Tigers defense that carried the program for its best season in six years.

Relentless coming off the line and with an excellent burst, Ealy also forced three fumbles, and as of now he’s projected to go as high as a top 10 overall or late first round pick. Even before he came out, Sam was projected as high as the third round to as low as the fourth or fifth.

Auburn’s Dee Ford is another exceptional defensive end who is expected to go in the first round. He’s right behind Ealy and Clowney in most rankings, but could surpass Ealy with a better than expected showing at the combine later this month.

Ford was right behind Sam with 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss, and the two are highly comparable in terms of size. However, Ford had the advantage of showcasing his talents on the biggest stage possible, notching two sacks and two tackles for a loss in Auburn’s narrow loss to top-ranked Florida State’s high-octane offense.

It’s safe to assume Sam won’t leap into the first round, but he could make up some ground over Oregon State’s Scott Crichton or Louisville’s Marcus Smith. Both are seen as second or third-round selections, and Sam could wow scouts enough at the combine, especially during the interviews, to jump ahead of both players.

For now we’ll project the first round and keep updating as the draft nears.

First Round

1)Houston Texans, DE, Jadeveon Clowney

2)St. Louis Rams (via Washington), OT Greg Robinson

3)Jacksonville Jaguars, QB, Johnny Manziel

4)Cleveland Browns, QB, Teddy Bridgewater

5)Oakland Raiders, OLB, Khalil Mack

6)Atlanta Falcons, OLB, Anthony Barr

7)Tampa Bay Buccaneers, QB, Blake Bortles

8)Minnesota Vikings, S, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

9)Buffalo Bills, CB, Justin Gilbert

10)Detroit Lions, DE, Kony Ealy

11)Tennessee Titans, ILB, C.J. Mosley

12)New York Giants, DE, Stephon Tuitt

13)St. Louis, OT, Jake Matthews

14)Chicago Bears, DE, Dee Ford

15)Pittsburgh Steelers, OG, Trai Turner

16)Baltimore Ravens (Coin Toss), WR, Sammy Watkins

17)Dallas Cowboys (Coin Toss), DT, Timmy Jernigan

18)New York Jets, OT, Taylor Lewan

19)Miami Dolphins, WR, Marqise Lee

20)Arizona Cardinals, WR, Mike Evans

21)Green Bay Packers, CB, Darqueze Dennard

22)Philadelphia Eagles, S, Terrence Brooks

23)Kansas City Chiefs, C, Marcus Martin

24)Cincinnati Bengals, DT, Louis Nix III

25)San Diego Chargers, S, Calvin Pryor

26)Cleveland (via Indianapolis), DT, Aaron Donald

27)New Orleans Saints, CB, Lamarcus Joyner

28)Carolina Panthers, OT, Zack Martin

29)New England Patriots, DT, Ra’Shede Hageman

30)San Francisco 49ers, WR, Davante Adams

31)Denver Broncos, CB, Loucheiz Purifoy

32)Seattle Seahawks, DE, Dominique Easley