When I do research on prospects heading into the NFL draft, every once in a while a player just jumps out at me. Sometimes it's their game film, sometimes their measurables, but there are clear instances when a player just grabs my attention for no readily apparent reason. Call it a hunch, or subconscious pattern recognition, but every person who spends time year after year evaluating prospects in any sport likely has had the same experience.
Markus Golden is not one of those players.
Instead, Golden represents something else entirely, something rarely seen in this most imperfect of universes: a near-perfect test case for a theory.
Let's compare two players side by side:
That's pretty darn uncanny. Two players at the same position, in the same program (and, though it isn't listed in the chart, under the same coaching staff), who have the same size with nearly identical production in the pass rush, and even extremely similar measurables. Player A does better in the agility drills (3-cone and short shuttle) but Player B shows a little more explosiveness (vertical and broad jump). In terms of their profile as NFL prospects, the two are basically twins.
(Note that, for most of the measurables listed, I used the Pro Day numbers for each player. Player B had a notoriously bad combine performance due to a wonky hamstring, but improved noticeably at his pro day. Player A also had a bad combine 40 time, and no other numbers were listed for him coming out of Indianapolis, so for the most part his pro day numbers are all anyone has to go on).
Player A is Golden.
Player B, if you haven't already guessed, is Michael Sam.
Like Sam last year, Golden's size has most teams viewing him as undersized for a DE, but a possible candidate to move to OLB instead. Like Sam last year, most experts are viewing Golden as a probable mid-round pick, possibly sneaking into the third round but more likely getting selected on Day Three.
Last year, in a deep class for pass rushers, 43 DEs and OLBs came off the board before Sam was selected late in the seventh round. Maybe, in a shallower talent pool, Golden still sees a comparable drop. Or maybe fewer than half as many DEs/OLBs get taken before he gets his name called. We'll find out soon enough.
Obviously, no two players are exactly alike. You could argue that Golden's better performance in agility drills is a sign that he'll have an easier time adapting to OLB than Sam, who is a DE only player, and that ability to adapt will boost his draft stock.
But when on paper two players are so similar, if there's a wide divergence in their fates in the draft, you have to start looking seriously at other factors to explain the discrepancy.
Through no fault of his own, Markus Golden is in a position to almost single-handedly prove (or disprove) the most common theory as to why Michael Sam is currently not with an NFL team, even on a futures contract. For that reason, he's the player I'll be keeping the closest eye on two weeks from now.