So you drafted Matt Elam.

Matt Elam
Typically I’ve only highlighted round one targets with this little series of posts but Matt Elam is a guy that I feel really strongly about and would absolutely love at the top of round two. He’s a personal favorite of mine.

Everyone knows Cris Carter, the hall of fame wide receiver who played the vast majority of his career as a Viking, but did you know he had a son in the draft? Duron Carter is taking the Bryce Brown road. Carter reportedly hated school and it led to him being a part of four programs in four years: Ohio State, Coffeyeville Community College, Alabama and Florida Atlantic University. Gil Brandt says reliability is a huge question and Carter only compounded the problem when he missed the regional combine with the flu. People that know Duron seem to believe that the younger Carter is riddled with a sense of entitlement and his twitter bio, “Like father like son I’m destined to be great, it’s in my blood”, doesn’t do much to dispel that. Carter doesn’t lack talent, he wouldn’t have been given so many opportunities if he did. So what is Carter’s problem? He doesn’t appear to have the “stuff”. He says he loves the game but he hasn’t overcame anything, he hasn’t been through the grind and he hasn’t shown the desire and hunger to be great.

Why do I mention Duron Carter in a Matt Elam piece? Because I want you to realize just how different they are. While Carter goes from school to school and Matt Elam is sacrificing his body in the SEC, it’s not just a difference in temperament and circumstance. Matt Elam’s story and background are the complete antithesis to those of Duron Carter. Elam’s story, what’s he been through, really lends itself to the fire and intensity Matt Elam has on constant display between the sidelines.

Matt Elam was born the youngest of five siblings, today he is the youngest of three [1]. Matt’s got an older brother named Abram Elam who played for the Kansas City Chiefs last season and Abe has seen the fire burning inside of his younger brother. “Matt’s seen things that you don’t expect anybody to see in their life,” Abram said. “If you let it, it’s the kind of thing that can defeat you. He hasn’t.”

As an eight year old he saw his twelve year old sister die at the neighborhood park after she was an innocent victim in a drive-by shooting. To this day Matt Elam still wears #22 in honor of his slain sister who donned the same number as a track and softball athlete. Elam said, “To be honest, when it happened, I felt like I had nothing else to live for. We were so close and did everything together.” And when Elam was a junior in high school he learned his older brother, Donald Jr., had been shot and killed near the same exact spot his sister had been killed just after being released from prison.

Matt Elam has seen his family struggle, he’s lived in tough areas, he’s seen his parents get divorced, he’s seen two siblings murdered and another battle cancer. As a 21 year old, Matt Elam has probably seen too much but it puts his steely resolve on the field into proper context. When he’s out there flattening SEC running backs and receivers, putting himself in harm’s way, you know why. He’s experienced the harsh realities of a cold world and knows not to take anything for granted. Matt Elam is a warrior on and off the field [2].

The source of Elam’s passion is family. Football is a way for him to make his mom, Addie Lewis, happy. He looks up to his older brother, Abram, a safety with the Cleveland Browns who offers advice on how to become a better person and player. And the memory of his late sister, Christina, and brother, Donald, inspires him to utilize all the gifts he’s been given, whether it’s pushing through a grueling summer workout or playing each down like it’s his last.

That’s the kind of person you’re getting when you draft Matt Elam. You’re getting a player who absolutely loves the game, will energize a defense and a guy who’s just a tad off kilter. You’re getting a guy who has parlayed tragedy into motivation and desire. You’re getting a guy who was arguably the tone setter for an entire Florida team that all seemed to adopt the no-holds-barred mentality of their captain. You’re getting a guy who celebrates, a guy who dances, yells and screams and will intimidate. You’re getting a guy who reportedly worked out six hours per day over the summers in high school. You’re getting a guy who unlike some other talented athletes, dedicated himself in the classroom so he could reach his goals on the gridiron. You’re getting a bully on the football field. And when you draft Matt Elam, you’re getting a guy who doesn’t need any extra motivation. He’s the sort of guy every football team needs, a leader, a motivator and an intimidator.

Some draftniks are arguing that Matt Elam no longer has a place in the NFL, that bone-crushers like him have become outdated and that his aggressive mentality will hurt him just as much as it helps. And the response to that is an incredibly easy one: Bob Sanders, Bernard Pollard, Brian Dawkins and Roman Harper. All four of these players were “too” something but their barbaric mentality allowed them to become key cogs on winning teams, three of which won superbowls. Bob Sanders and Brian Dawkins were too small. Roman Harper and Bernard Pollard were too slow. But you know what? On Sundays all four went out on the football field, laid people out and became lightning rods for their respective teams. Now obviously all four of those players are different, Bob Sanders won “Defensive Player of the Year” one season and Brian Dawkins is probably going to the hall of fame one day, Pollard and Harper wish they were that good. But the point is, each of these guys have a place in the NFL. And of that group of four, I personally believe Matt Elam is closer to Bob Sanders and Brian Dawkins than he is Pollard and Harper.

Matt Elam isn’t the longest or biggest safety in the draft but if Chip Kelly is truly committed to “beat[ing] up” offenses and building a bully of a defense, there are no better options in this draft than Matt Elam in my eyes. And Chip’s apparent affinity with special teams should put Matt Elam within Chip Kelly’s draft crosshairs.

Matt Elam is not slow

One of the biggest knocks on Matt Elam is that he lacks speed. I have no idea where this came from, perhaps the combine? But if anyone should know that “official” combine times are anything but, it should be draftniks. League sources gave their times to NFL Draft Scout and the times they had were much closer to the “unofficial” times that the NFL Network had initially broadcasted. NFL Network’s unofficial 40 time was a 4.46 and the time that scouts gave NFL Draft Scout (an affiliate of CBS) was a 4.43 40 yard dash.

That’s Matt Elam chasing down Odell Beckham, LSU’s most explosive offensive player, in the open field and causing the fumble. Didn’t look too slow there.

Elam with the great coverage of Kenric McNeal, a junior in this game who ran a 4.4 coming out of high school.

Runs down Kenny Shaw from behind on a punt return.

Watch tape on Matt Elam and you’ll see him used in a variety of roles. He’s got good straight line speed and I think the separation he gives out of breaks is more about footwork than quickness. He’s used as a nickel and dime corner, he’s used as a deep half safety, a single high safety and he’s frequently used in the box. And he makes plays in all of those roles, including as a nickel and dime corner where he was not beaten often by receivers. Nobody will confuse him with Ed Reed anytime soon but he’s fast enough to make it in the NFL.

Matt Elam the “Elaminator”

Matt Elam is a bully on the football field. As you can see he needs to be reigned in a little bit, he needs to avoid the out of bounds hits more and he needs to wrap up more consistently but personally, I’d rather have a guy you need to reign in than a guy you need to try and make tougher.

In Summation:

I know I used the phrase before but Matt Elam is a lightning rod on the defensive side of the ball, he’s an irritator and an intimidator who pumped life into the Florida defense. I’m not sure he’ll ever be an all-pro safety but I’m absolutely sure he’ll start for a defense and be a tone setter for a team. If you take his play into account he’s already a good prospect but his ability to get inside the head of opponents, energize his teammates and be a positive force on and off the field is what makes me really, really want Matt Elam.

He’s ready to go right out of the box, his college defensive coordinator was signed by the Seattle Seahawks to replace Gus Bradley and Will Muschamp is noted for his development of defensive back prospects, a list that includes a gluttony of Texas players like Michael Huff, Michael Griffin and other Longhorns. And as I mentioned earlier, his brother Abram is an NFL veteran who has been in the league for seven seasons. His college pedigree and experience combined with his NFL bloodlines make him appear to be a bit safer than some other prospects.

In college he was used in a variety of ways [3].

Has the range and game speed to play wide in quarters and thirds coverage, though projects best as a slot defender and quick box player. …  Has good recovery quickness on close cuts and doesn’t get embarrassed too often on slants, in-cuts, and comebacks. Has the deep speed to provide boundary support on long sideline passes — boxes his receiver into position well. Covers well up and down the seam — this may be his best role in the NFL.

Excellent slot defender who turns and runs with faster receivers, transitions from his first to second responsibilities in mixed coverage, and sticks with his man on routes with cuts and angles. … Can play the back half well, but he isn’t a single-high center fielder. Reads keys in the backfield and follows the action — probably a better man than zone player. Has the quickness, aggressiveness, and strength to blitz from the line or from linebacker depth. Impressive ball-hawking abilities for his height. Special teams demon who will make an NFL impact there right away.

And if you watch him you’ll also see him take snaps as a single high safety, something he should be able to do on occasion in the NFL without getting exposed. One negative aspect to Matt Elam’s game is that when it’s time to contest for the ball, he can lose the battle as he’s only about 5’10”. And guys like Eli Manning and Tony Romo love to throw that jump ball.

He’s also very intelligent, if you watch Florida you’ll see him orchestrating the defense which is undoubtedly why he was named a captain.

And against the run he occasionally misses tackles because he comes in too hot but he makes intelligent and aggressive run fits and he could improve into a top of the line run supporter if an NFL coach were able to get him to break down and wrap up properly.

If the Eagles drafted him he would immediately compete for a starting spot with Patrick Chung at the strong safety spot (and probably win). It would give the Eagles a “core four” of Kenny Phillips, Nate Allen, Patrick Chung and Matt Elam at safety. That would be a pretty nifty combination of coverage players (Phillips, Allen) and strikers like Chung and Elam. He could also immediately contribute on special teams.

We’re rebuilding the defense and I think adding a long term starter at safety (which we don’t currently have) and a tone setter could go a long way to improving this defense and changing their mentality. With the additions of Barwin, Williams, Chung, Sopoaga, Fletcher and Elam I think we could shake the “soft” label very quickly.

 

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