With the NFL Draft but a few hours away, it's looking more and more like Michael Sam is going to have a lengthy wait before hearing his name called.
If it's called at all.
Once thought by some to be a mid-round pick -- potentially a Day 2 selection -- Sam's draft stock has nose-dived since he announced that he was gay back in February.
Scouts have insisted that the two events are unrelated. Simply put, the more they've seen of Sam, the less they've liked how his on-the-field ability translates to NFL success.
Sam had what was by all accounts a disappointing performance at the NFL Combine and only a marginally better showing at Missouri's Pro Day. He's not a standout athlete by NFL standards, but he was co-Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC -- what's regarded as the country's most competitive conference.
Scouts have proclaimed that Sam's greatest attribute is his effort, but the consensus seems to be that his physical ability won't allow that effort to result in much production against professional offensive linemen.
A recent poll of 21 scouts in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel suggested that Sam may not be drafted. Seven scouts said they wouldn't even sign Sam as an undrafted free agent.
The Patriots don't have all that many glaring needs; most of their starting offensive and defensive units appear to be in place. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last week that they could field a competitive team right now.
But might they be interested in Sam as a late-round selection?
The defensive line could use an infusion of youth, and their group of edge players would benefit from a depth addition. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were durable last season, but they were two of the most highly used defensive ends in the league based on snap counts.
A day after Sam's announcement, Bill Belichick released a statement saying that the Patriots had been evaluating same "extensively."
“We evaluate all the players, including Michael Sam, based on the totality of who they are and who can best contribute to our team and organization, regardless of the matters being discussed today," Belichick said. "They all have strengths, they all have weaknesses and no two human beings are identical. Our scouting staff has performed extensive work on Michael, both this season and going back throughout his career. That work will continue through the draft process this spring."
Belichick has always placed a strong emphasis on production in college -- something Sam has on his resume -- and would seemingly have no issue drafting Sam if deemed he could help the Patriots win games.
That's what Pats owner Robert Kraft cares most about, too. He told the Boston Herald he would be welcoming of Sam if the Patriots took a chance on him.
“We’re about winning,” Kraft told the Boston Herald. “And anyone who can come in here and help us win, I personally don’t care what their ethnic background is, their racial background, the gender preference. If they can help us win, and they’re about team first, then I’m happy to have him here.”
Kraft went on to say he believed the team's locker room atmosphere would be more than accepting of Sam.
“If a player were gay and came into this locker room, it would be the most supportive system,” Kraft said. “He’d gain strength by being in here. And it wouldn’t be divisive and he’d make friends for life and they could help him win.
“I really believe that,” Kraft said. “And it was interesting to me that this young man announced to his teammates that he was gay before the season started. And they had a 12-2 record, they were in the SEC championship game, like us being in the AFC championship game, and they lost to Auburn and beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
“And he was co-defensive player of the year in the SEC. And that was after full disclosure. And that makes me happy.”
Whether any team, the Patriots included, will draft Sam remains to be seen. And the wait may be a long one. Still, what seems pretty clear is that Belichick and Kraft would have no qualms bringing him aboard if he can help them succeed on Sundays.