EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For all the discussion about what Missouri defensive end Michael Sam's acknowledgement that he's gay could mean for his NFL future, nothing will matter as much in the final evaluation as whether or not he can be a productive player in the league.
The NFL has long had an "if you can play, you can stay" mentality and that will apply to Sam just like it will to any other prospect. In taking stock of how Sam might fit in with the St. Louis Rams, it doesn't look like he'd make a lot of sense for what the team needs.
Projected as a mid-round pick, it seems unlikely the team would want to use a pick in those rounds on Sam or any defensive end, for that matter. The Rams are loaded at the position with top starters Robert Quinn and Chris Long already in place. William Hayes is the team's third end and one of its most valuable players. Fourth end Eugene Sims is also a productive backup who gets plenty of snaps.
Last offseason, the Rams signed Hayes and Sims to contract extensions, giving the team control over all four ends through the 2015 season (so long as they do as expected and exercise the team option on Quinn for 2015).
With important holes to fill elsewhere, defensive end seems like a position the Rams are unlikely to address other than perhaps finding some potential prospects in undrafted free agency. South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney might be the only exception to that rule and that's solely based on the fact that his upside as a game-changing, franchise player might be too good to pass up.
Beyond the lack of need for help at defensive end, Sam might also not be much of a scheme fit in the team's base 4-3 defense. Sam earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors for his work as a 4-3 end at Mizzou but at 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, he likely doesn't have the size to play with his hand down in the NFL. At last month's Senior Bowl, Sam worked at outside linebacker and the Rams do have a need there but Sam projects as a possible outside 'backer in a 3-4 more than he would in a 4-3.
There are, of course, examples of 'tweeners like Sam making the transition to the NFL, adding weight and becoming top notch rush ends. Right here in St. Louis, the Rams successfully did that with Leonard Little, who became the team's best pass-rusher. But Little had burst and speed that were special and he was able to retain that after putting on weight. Sam is quick but most scouting reports indicate he doesn't have the same speed and athleticism Little had.
In fact, the Rams might already have a player attempting to do what Sam would do were he to play for the Rams. Sammy Brown was a wildly productive college player at Houston but went undrafted in no small part because he was in the same no man's land that some see in Sam. Brown is still with the Rams, where he has put on some weight and worked at defensive end but his contributions on the active roster have been limited to special teams.
On the flip side, the Rams aren't shy about collecting pass-rushers and it's not entirely out of the question that they'll look to add one at some point in the draft. They liked undrafted rookie Gerald Rivers enough to carry him as a fifth end who was inactive on game days last year before losing him on waivers late in the season.
In ways other than football, Sam would make sense for the Rams. The team has a really tight, albeit young, locker room with strong leadership. The defensive line group is one of the closest on the team and doesn't appear to have much problem with diversity. Jeff Fisher is a veteran coach with a knack for relating to all types of players and general manager Les Snead is a progressive type who understands how to blend personalities.
There's little doubt in my mind the Rams are a team equipped to handle the media crunch and attention that would come with Sam's presence. Still, for all of the ways Sam would fit off the field, it seems unlikely he'd be a Ram because he doesn't fit in the way that matters most: the football way.