Florida defensive back Matt Elam is an incredibly polarizing prospect. He is gifted with so much athletic ability and flashes the ability to do so much on a football field, but may miss more plays than he makes. He gives people so much hope for what he can be in the NFL because he has himself in position so often to make plays and then just cannot pay them off. So, depending on the viewpoint, he is either a step away from breaking out and being the player so many believe he can be or he is an inconsistent player that is never going to put it all together. Elam has so many skills that he brings to the football field, but at the same time, never put them together into one position. And it appears Florida found this to be the case too as Elam played so many different positions or variations on positions throughout his career that it was clear they wanted Elam to be on the field in some capacity, but could not find the best fit for him. The Gators did not seem to know what they were going to get from Elam from play to play either. They just tried to aim his unique brand of chaos and unending supply of energy at the opponent and let him do what he does. In so many ways, Elam is a bigger, stronger Tyrann Mathieu if he just made the plays he was in position to make. Elam’s inconsistency combined with his ridiculous potential and athleticism could see him drafted in the second round or fall as far as the fourth.
Elam is listed at 5’10” 202lbs. Fairly or not, there will be a lot of eyes on his height at the combine and whether that 5’10” holds up or if he slips into the 5’9” area. Elam is a beast physically with remarkable strength and athleticism. He has impressive acceleration, quickness, and speed. There is a small concern as to whether Elam is maxed out physically, but the counterargument to that is that he does not need much physical development at this point. Elam appears like someone who will perform well at the combine, but if for some reason he does not, he demonstrates more than enough functional athleticism on the field. Elam has so much energy and is so amped up all the time on the field he does not appear to know what to do with himself. He never seems to get tired.
As a tackler, Elam is a highlight hitter. He has the power to blow people up and takes the opportunity whenever he gets the chance and many times will miss to the detriment of his team. Elam loves to try to shoulder bomb opposing ball carriers and will not use his arm as well as launching himself far too often. What makes this incredibly frustrating is that Elam, like so many players, simply could be a powerful tackler with good form. He needs to use his arms more often, but has a tendency to miss those tackles because he has launched himself in the air and no longer has his legs. Elam also needs to slow himself down a little bit and break down to make tackles. He is so hyperactive it can work against him at times. When Elam shows good form, he is still a good hitter and will make some great, yet still powerful tackles when he puts it all together. If Elam commits himself to improving his technique and consistency, he has the ability to be a great tackler. If not, he is going to get some highlights on Sportscenter but be a mediocre tackler as a whole.
As a run defender, Elam is a missile. He reads quickly and diagnoses well and comes downhill with incredible ferocity. Elam is often in position to make tackles for loss and has in his career, but misses as many opportunities as he makes. In fairness to Elam, even when he is unable to close the deal, it usually does cause the runner to be delayed and allows teammates to go make the tackle, but again, Elam gives people so much reason to be in awe of his ability to be in position to make so many plays and at the same time frustrated because he does not make them. Elam is fearless and has the power to take down ball carriers of any size when he can connect on the tackle.
In pass coverage, Elam’s ability to play man coverage stands out. He has tremendous quickness and athleticism to match up in the slot and against tight ends. Against tight ends, he would be at a huge height disadvantage, but has the power and quickness to give them a hard time. Elam has experience in zone but is not as comfortable in it. He has a tendency to bite on fakes and lose his depth. He has the speed and acceleration to break on the ball in man coverage or in underneath zone and can be a threat to knock away and intercept passes. In deeper zone, he has plenty of speed and range to cover the back end, but needs to do a better job holding his water on the back end. Elam can be impatient and he wants to be doing something at all times. That can work against him in coverage. Elam needs to continue working on his ball skills. He has the ability to get in and break up passes well but is in position to make some interceptions and was unable
Elam also excels as a blitzer and is terrifying for opposing quarterbacks coming off the edge. He is such an explosive player who gets off the edge quickly and attacks like a rabid dog so if he connects with his target in the quarterback, he can do damage and cause turnovers. When he is on the field, quarterbacks will take notice of where he is to make sure he is accounted for to prevent getting killed. Again, because Elam is so reckless as a tackler he can miss opportunities he should make. Playing the star position in Florida’s system put him in a natural position to line up like a linebacker and attack off the edge. Elam does a pretty good job hiding his intent and is extremely comfortable playing around the line of scrimmage and in the box.
Because of the fact that Elam has played so many positions and has so many skills, he has the opportunity to be molded into a team’s image at whatever position they want, though he might project best as a strong safety because of his ability to support the run and man up tight ends. However, Elam could also flourish as a free safety, hybrid safety, or star in a nickel package. It would not be out of the question for Elam to be a starting safety and be moved to a star position in nickel situations creating a Big Nickel set up. With the increase amount of receivers on the field, nickel is becoming more and more a base style formation in terms of how NFL teams plan their defense and work the draft giving a player like Elam added value. Elam has a linebacker mentality with defensive back athleticism and that could allow him to play a number of different roles.
If Elam can put it together and become a consistent player, he could end up being a player like former USC Trojan and longtime Steeler Troy Polamalu. His unpredictability, that style of manic play, and energy on the field can create opportunities for himself and his teammates, but it can also put them in stressful situations when they miss that can result in points. If Elam cannot find a way to put it together and get consistent, he could end up being a giant ‘What if?’ who finds himself as a tweener with no position and his chaotic style of play becomes a hindrance and a problem more than a help. In that respect, he could be more similar to former Florida Gator Ahmad Black and current Tampa Bay Buccaneer who is trying to find his way in the NFL. He did many of the same things Elam did in college, though his not quite as physically gifted and he was labeled a tweener as well.
Matt Elam is a giant ball of potential waiting to be molded by the right coaching staff into a consistent player that brings a unique brand of chaos to the defensive side of the ball that keeps teams guessing. The plays that were near misses for Elam at Florida would have been a great career unto themselves and if he can make those plays, he is a huge asset for teams. Elam might have been better served staying at Florida another year in an attempt to be more consistent and show what teams hope he can be now and he would position himself to be a first round pick, but he is not getting dramatically bigger or stronger by staying. As it is, he has a huge draft range because of how wildly different his play could be interpreted by every team in addition to an incredibly competitive field for the safety position. As a result, it would not be a surprise if Elam went anywhere from the second round to the fourth round with Elam having the opportunity to prove to everyone why he should have gone in the first round or why he should not have been drafted at all.
Texas A&M 2012
Florida State 2012
Florida State, Vanderbilt, Ohio State 2011
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