From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#3 Elijah Molden/CB University of Washington 5’10” 190
- Active supporter in the run game, consistently shows willingness to stick his nose in the fire
- Possess elite ball skills and anticipation, allowing him to create splash plays in both zone and man coverage assignments
- Enters the NFL with position versatility, played both in the slot and on the boundary, along with some post safety work in Washington’s defense
- Has good instincts and timing as a blitzer, routinely disrupts plays in the backfield on Nickel blitzes
- Plays with fantastic effort in pursuit, routinely finishes plays near the football
- Great presence in zone coverage, allows his eyes to lead him to the right spots consistently
- Displays great click and close in and out of his breaks in off coverage, at his best when able to react and close downhill
- Great physicality in both press and off coverage, routinely disrupts receivers at the top of their routes
- Converts speed to power effectively, providing him with above average hit power for the position
- Wins at the catch point with physicality, using violent hands and relentless finish to break up contested catch opportunities
- Defeats stock blocks in the open field effortlessly with superb quickness and play recognition
- Lacks the desired long speed for a player of his statute, will allow separation downfield when beaten off the line
- Fails to break down at times when tackling, leading to some missed tackles in the open field
- Hip stiffness shows up at times when transitioning to carry receivers vertically
- Lack of stature limits his effectiveness as a run defender, particularly in the red zone, where he struggles to disengage from pulling offensive lineman
- Lack of a traditional 2020 season leaves scouts with just one year of starter level production to evaluate Molden’s game
- 153 tackles 7 TFL 25 PD 5 INTs 4 FF 2 FR
- 2019: 79 tackles 5.5 TFL 4 INTs 17 PD 3 FF 1 FR
- Named first team All Pac-12 in both 2019 and 2020
- Played just four games in the Covid shortened 2020 Pac-12 season
- Started 17 consecutive games to finish his career after playing extensively in a reserve role as in his freshman and sophomore campaigns
- 2019 Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl MVP(9 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 FF, 1 INT)
Entering the 2020 draft cycle, the Steelers enter the offseason with many uncertainties on the roster, perhaps none more underrated than replacing the potential loss of a premier slot cornerback in Mike Hilton. Enter Elijah Molden, a wildly physical, fundamentally sound, playmaker out of Washington, who played primarily on the slot, but also recorded reps on the boundary and at the post safety position over his past four seasons at Washington. While Molden appears to be one of the few options capable of replacing Hilton’s physicality in defending the run, he also possesses the ability to provide similar results as a blitzer, along with Hilton’s moderately high levels of turnover creation.
Molden, a versatile player in coverage, is unquestionably at his best in shallow zone assignments, where he is able to rely on his superb instincts and allow the quarterback’s eyes to put him in position to create splash plays. Below, deployed in a SCF(seam-curl-flat) assignment in a Cover 3 scheme against USC, Molden expands out toward the flat while gaining depth at the snap, and reading the quarterback before stopping to high point the football, securing a crucial red zone interception.
All that being said, Molden is no slouch in man coverage assignments, using ideal patience and physicality to limit separation at the top of opposing receivers routes. Working out of the slot against Stanford during his sophomore season, Molden uses his speed advantage over the opposing the tight end, opting to play with heavy inside leverage, disrupting the timing with physicality at top of the route, staying on the top shoulder to keep the receiver short of the sticks, and getting his right hand across to secure an impressive fourth down stop. On the next play, against Oregon State, Molden displays his off coverage acumen, matching the receiver’s outside release with patient feet before breaking efficiently to undercut the pivot route and force a nice late half turnover.
Molden’s physicality and pursuit of the football make him an ideal fit at the Nickel spot in the Pittsburgh defense. Against Washington State, Molden takes his read step before diagnosing screen immediately, using an efficient T-step break, defeating the stalk block with a combination of agility and physicality, and finishing with an impressive form tackle to stop the receiver after a miniscule gain. While his size can limit his impact as a run defender, Molden consistently relies on using relentless effort and pursuit to the football to make tackles in space, staying clean to defeat blocks with his quickness. In a goal line situation against Stanford, Molden scrapes over to serve as the contain man on the opposite side of the formation, flying downhill and shooting low to cut down the back for a loss on first down.
Though Molden is an elite run defender at the defensive back position, much like Mike Hilton, he can struggle in big personnel situations when he is unable to use his agility to defeat blockers in space. Below against Stanford in 2020, Molden, aligned at linebacker depth, is slow to process power, eventually coming downhill, yet getting kicked out with relative ease by the pulling guard, opening a lane for the score. Similarly in coverage, Molden’s lack of size can allow him to be boxed out at the catch point by larger framed defenders. Defending a tight end on a fourth down, five yard in later in the same game, Molden does a nice job of staying patient and attacking the football at the catch point, but his lack of length prevents him from disrupting the contested catch, allowing the tight end to secure the catch and drag defenders past the sticks for a conversion.
Overall, Elijah Molden projects as a starting level NFL slot cornerback, entering the league as an above average run defender, who uses an impressive combination of patience and physicality to stifle receivers out of man and zone coverage assignments. Moreover, Molden’s effective usage as a blitzer adds to his value at the slot position, particularly in Pittsburgh, which blitzes their Apex defenders more than any other team in football.
In terms of NFL usage, Molden projects similar to the way Desmond King was used with the Chargers, with him playing in the slot as a passing down player, yet also garnering early down usage through his proficiency as a blitzer and run defender. Moreover, as Molden will more than likely come off the field in obvious short yardage running situations, his primary weakness as a player may be mitigated heavily in his transition to the NFL.
While he may struggle at times to carry the NFL’s fastest receivers vertically, Molden projects as a mid round value pick, who could immediately provide a positive impact as a starting slot defender. Moreover, Molden’s effort and pursuit of the football suggest that he could prove effective in work as a gunner and provide work on the kickoff unit. As it seems overwhelmingly likely that all world slot cornerback Mike Hilton will walk in free agency this March, few prospects will have the ability to provide a one to one replacement for Hilton’s unicorn-like skills, and Elijah Molden might just find his name at the top of that short list.
Projection: Day Two
Games Watched: Vs Stanford(2018), vs Washington State(2019), Oregon State(2019), vs Stanford(2019), vs USC(2019), vs Stanford(2020)