49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

February 10, 2014
Openly gay player to the 49ers? First measure his arms ...


Would the 49ers draft Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end who over the weekend announced he was gay? When contemplating whether the 49ers would be interested in any college player, particularly a defensive player, one of the first things to do is examine his arm length. General manager Trent Baalke's opinions regarding gay athletes are unknown. His opinions regarding long-armed defenders, on the other hand, are well documented.

Baalke loves long levers. Sam's measured 33 ΒΌ inches at the Senior Bowl last month, which gave him some of the most impressive guns at that game, certainly so for someone who stands just 6-1 and change. In fact, no one Sam's height or shorter had longer arms at the Senior Bowl.

By comparison, 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith's famously long arms measure 35 3/8 inches, but he stands nearly 6-5. Last year's first-round draft pick, safety Eric Reid, also is known for his wing span. Reid is similar in height to Sam (about 6-1) and has slightly longer arms, 33 5/8 inches.

Sam led the No. 4-ranked Tigers in sacks in 2013, and he was named the SEC's co-defensive player of the year. For the 49ers, he would project more to outside linebacker than to a 3-4 defensive end, which calls for a player closer to 300 pounds. Scouts and pundits appear to be criticizing Sam's speed and agility off the edge, which is something that undersized linebackers - think: Von Miller whose arms, incidentally, also are 33 1/2 inches -- must possess.

It's possible that a team like the 49ers would move Sam to inside linebacker like they did last year with Darius Fleming, who played outside linebacker in college and who has similar dimensions to Sam. One of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's strengths is figuring out how to best utilize a player. He and the 49ers have been successful with so-called 'tweeners in the past, whether it's been Smith or Chris Culliver, who played both cornerback and safety in college, or Dan Skuta, who played inside linebacker before moving outside in 2013.

From a scheme standpoint, the 49ers are able to accommodate a lot of different types of players (as long as they have long arms). In in that way, at least, it's easy to see Sam fitting in.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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