There were a lot of good players who went undrafted as the NFL's annual selection spectacle wrapped up Saturday, and a lot more good players who didn't get picked until late. Over and over, we heard that this was an immensely talented draft class, and when you combine that with the inane process that leads NFL teams to make the decisions they make -- tut-tutting over character issues after Ray Lewis became one of the league's top stars -- there are bound to be some incredibly good football players that drop for reasons passing understanding if you've watched them play for four years.
As far as the SEC is concerned, the day started with that storyline focused on three senior quarterbacks who were exceptionally talented but had different "flaws" or "concerns" (words that deserve scare quotes given how loosely NFL scouts throw them around): A.J. McCarron, Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray. Eventually, they went in pretty rapid succession: Murray was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 163rd pick, McCarron followed that up by going to the Cincinnati Bengals with the 164th pick, and Mettenberger -- the only one that might legitimately cause you concerns -- was drafted by the Tennessee Titans with the 178th pick.
Then, with about 80 picks to go, there were a lot of SEC players to watch. But Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who would be the sport's first openly gay professional player, was still on the board -- despite having been SEC Defensive Player of the Year. According to ESPN, this season marked the first time since 2006 (before the national title run began) that the player to earn that distinction hasn't been selected in the first round. Michael Sam was finally drafted at almost the last moment, with the St. Louis Rams using the 249th (of 256) choice to select what was essentially a hometown player.
By then, the questions had already begun: Was one of the reasons Michael Sam dropped to the final round of the draft because he had decided to come out? When you think about it, it's a terribly difficult question to answer. For most college football fans, self included, the decisions that NFL general managers make are inscrutable enough to begin with. Add in a wild card that still divides some segments of our society, and particularly the older men who tend to be GMs, and it's nearly impossible to figure out.
It's not like there weren't football reasons to think twice about drafting Michael Sam. Nine of his 11.5 sacks in 2013 were in three games -- against Arkansas State, Vanderbilt and the raging dumpster inferno that was the Florida offense -- that all happened within a month. And Michael Sam's results at the NFL Combine, an annual event that many scouts hold in higher regard than a player's performance in actual games, weren't just unimpressive, they were relatively disappointing. If a team wasn't interested in drafting a defensive end at all, or was going to use a relatively high pick to do so, it's not implausible that they looked elsewhere entirely because of football concerns.
At the same time, if you were someone who was uneasy with drafting Michael Sam because he's gay, those sorts of numbers could give you a reasonable explanation for not drafting him. Or they could simply confirm your decision to not draft him. Or they could become mixed with your initial reason for being hesitant and persuade you not to draft him at all. The human mind is a difficult thing to figure out in normal moments; when you put it in a stressful situation where multimillion-dollar decisions are being made that can affect the decision-maker's future, there might be no way to unscramble why a person made the call they made.
The best guess is that some teams decided not to draft Michael Sam at least in part because he's gay. Some teams decided not to draft Michael Sam for some other reason entirely. And some teams probably never considered it for a variety of other reasons. And now that Michael Sam has been drafted, he can stay with the Rams by proving to those who left him on the board for whatever reason that he's a good football player.
Overall, the SEC saw 26 players drafted Saturday, giving it a nation-leading 49 choices in all seven rounds of the draft. LSU led the nation in drafted players, with nine; Alabama tied with Notre Dame for second with eight. Every school in the conference had at least one player drafted, and only Kentucky and the two Mississippi schools had just one player drafted. (Texas was not so fortunate. You're welcome, Aggie fans, for the gratuitous reference to that fact.)
The offense-heavy focus of this year's SEC draftees let up a bit Saturday, but not much. Of the 26 selections in the fourth through seventh rounds, 13 came from offense and 12 from defense. (One was a kicker.) That means that 29 of the SEC picks in this draft were on offense, 19 were on defense and the other was on special teams.
|SEC Fourth-, Fifth-, Sixth- and Seventh-Round Draft Picks|
|101||Jaylen Watkins||CB||Florida Gators||Philadelphia Eagles|
|106||Bruce Ellington||WR||South Carolina Gamecocks||San Francisco 49ers|
|123||Kevin Norwood||WR||Alabama Crimson Tide||Seattle Seahawks|
|151||Avery Williamson||LB||Kentucky Wildcats||Tennessee Titans|
|155||Arthur Lynch||TE||Georgia Bulldogs||Miami Dolphins|
|156||Lamin Barrow||LB||LSU Tigers||Denver Broncos|
|159||Chris Smith||DE||Arkansas Razorbacks||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|160||Ed Stinson||DE||Alabama Crimson Tide||Arizona Cardinals|
|163||Aaron Murray||QB||Georgia Bulldogs||Kansas City Chiefs|
|164||AJ McCarron||QB||Alabama Crimson Tide||Cincinnati Bengals|
|167||Vinnie Sunseri||S||Alabama Crimson Tide||New Orleans Saints|
|169||Ronald Powell||LB||Florida Gators||New Orleans Saints|
|173||Wesley Johnson||OT||Vanderbilt Commodores||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|177||Jeoffrey Pagan||DE||Alabama Crimson Tide||Houston Texans|
|178||Zach Mettenberger||QB||LSU Tigers||Tennessee Titans|
|179||Jon Halapio||OG||Florida Gators||New England Patriots|
|181||Alfred Blue||RB||LSU Tigers||Houston Texans|
|188||E.J. Gaines||CB||Missouri Tigers||St. Louis Rams|
|193||Zach Fulton||OG||Tennessee Volunteers||Kansas City Chiefs|
|211||Jay Prosch||FB||Auburn Tigers||Houston Texans|
|215||Daniel McCullers||DT||Tennessee Volunteers||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|216||Dre Hal||DB||Vanderbilt Commodores||Houston Texans|
|227||Kiero Small||FB||Arkansas Razorbacks||Seattle Seahawks|
|228||Zach Hocker||K||Arkansas Razorbacks||Washington Redskins|
|239||James Wright||WR||LSU Tigers||Cincinnati Bengals|
|249||Michael Sam||DE||Missouri Tigers||St. Louis Rams|