High-stakes suspense surrounds NFL Draft
By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - It may bring a dynamic quarterback to the pro ranks in Johnny Manziel, or a defensive force in Jadeveon Clowney, but this week's NFL Draft may be remembered for ushering in the league’s first openly gay player.
High-stakes suspense envelopes the three-day draft starting on Thursday that is the lifeblood of the National Football League, the mechanism that distributes the primary talent flow into the league from the college ranks.
Top candidates including linebacker Khalil Mack, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and offensive linemen Greg Robinson, should have the guessing game over their NFL future settled in the first round, but one of the main threads of intrigue will not be resolved until Friday or Saturday.
Michael Sam, the decorated defensive lineman from the University of Missouri who has been projected as a middle round pick, is expected to become the first openly gay player ever drafted by having his name called at Radio City Music Hall.
Sam, the Southeastern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year after leading it with 11.5 sacks, may be selected on Friday when the second and third rounds are held, or he could have to wait until rounds four through seven are conducted on Saturday.
There is also the chance that Sam, who may be seen as too slow to play linebacker and not tall enough to thrive on the line, could be passed over following a so-so performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Presuming Sam is drafted, that will set up another challenge for him – to make the final roster of the drafting team this summer to become the NFL's first openly gay player.
"I just wish you guys (would) see me as Michael Sam the football player, instead of Michael Sam the gay football player," Sam told a throng of reporters after going through a slew of drills and interviews at the Scouting Combine. Continued...