From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling a cornerback prospect that has the length and measurables to profile as a prototypical press man CB at the next level from a school I know well.
#5 Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida (Junior) – 6014, 191lb
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Kaiir Elam||6014/191||8 7/8||30 7/8||N/A|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Possesses the size and length you look for in a prototypical press man CB
— Has a long frame with the arms to minimize passing lanes and contest 50/50 balls
— Can battle larger receivers in the red zone and contest passes at the catch point well
— Has shown the ability to cover TEs in the slot while primarily functioning as a perimeter defender
— Has the quick trigger to click-and-close downhill on pass thrown in front of him in zone coverage to attack the receiver as a tackler to contest the pass
— Possesses fair long speed and burst, but has the recovery speed to run with receivers down the field should they stack him
— Physical at the catch point playing through the receiver’s hands
— Can be a willing tackler that has no problem engaging blocks on the outside
— Will look to uproot ball carriers by their legs with an aggressive tackling style
— Can be patient at the LOS in press man, being accurate with his jam and to open and run
— Will look to throw receivers off their routes in press man coverage, being physical down the field with his hand fighting
— Has the ball skills to high point the football in the air like it is his or attempt to make the diving catch
— Has good recovery speed and burst, but doesn’t have great straight-line speed
— Can rely too much on his jam at times and not make good transitions with his footwork and hip turn in coverage
— May have slightly tight hips when attempting to open up quickly to turn and run with receivers down the field
— Can get too much of a forward lean at times with his punch in press man, causing him to stall his feet and potentially whiff
— Hand fighting and grabby nature will lead to likely more PI calls at the next level
— Can do a better job of shedding blocks on the outside to aid in the run game
— Hot-and-cold as a tackler displaying want-to on some plays but appears disinterested and avoids contact on others
— Needs to be more consistent when coming up and hitting ball carriers with his breakdown and running through his man rather than arm/shoulder tackling
— Junior prospect from Riviera Beach, FL
— Played both defensive back and wide receiver in high school
— Multi-sport athlete who also played basketball and ran track where he finished eighth in the 100 meters at the 2018 FHSAA Class 1A State Finals
— Uncle, former Gators safety and NFL First Round Pick Matt Elam was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2013 NFL Draft
— Appeared in all 13 games and made five starts in his first collegiate season where he totaled 11 tackles (eight solo), three interceptions and four passes defended
— Started at cornerback in all 12 games of the season and finished his sophomore campaign with 39 tackles (28 solo), one TFL, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups and one fumble recovery
— Started at cornerback in ten games this season after injuring his knee in the Alabama game, causing him to miss three weeks and recorded 29 total stops (17 solo), 1.5 TFLs, an INT and five pass breakups
— Played in the team’s bowl game after declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft
— Coaches All-SEC First Team in 2020 Coaches Freshman All-SEC Team in 2019,
— Named to 2019-20 SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll
Kaiir Elam came to Gainesville after my stint with the Gators Strength and Conditioning Program in 2019, but having conversations with coaches in recent seasons, they have expressed their confidence that Elam is a legit prospect and should be one of the top CB prospects in this draft class. Many other draft outlets seem to agree as Elam has been in nearly every top five list when it comes to positional rankings. Elam may have had what was considered a down year compared to his first two seasons on campus, but part of that could be attributed to a knee sprain he suffered in the Alabama game that caused him to miss three games after but returned to finish out the season.
When you watch Elam, his size and length immediately stick out being listed at 6’2, 196lb prior to the official Combine measurements, he has the makings of a prototypical press man cornerback at the next level. That is exactly how Florida deployed him, utilizing his length, physicality, and aggressiveness at the catch point to contest passes and even win his fair share of 50/50 balls in his three seasons in college. No one INT sticks out more than this one he brings down in the Orange Bowl during his freshman season, showcasing his length and athleticism to leap into the air and bring down the jump ball for the game-sealing INT at the end of the game.
Elam’s size and length make him a great asset for a defense playing press man coverage with his ability to get hands on with the receiver at the LOS and throw them off their routes. Watch this play against the Crimson Tide and #1 Jameson Williams where Elam lines up in press man and shadows Williams as he tries to get an outside release but breaks back to the ball on the curl route to try and move the sticks on third-and-short. Elam anticipates the pass and stays sticky in coverage, reaching his arm in to deflect the pass and force Alabama to punt.
Elam’s physicality also comes out when asked to trigger downhill against the run or on short passes underneath. Watch this play where Elam is bailing in a Cover 3 look but sees the recognizes the underneath pass to the receiver running the out route, driving on the football and sticks him shortly after making the catch, wrapping him up and wrestles him to the ground.
Here is another example of Elam’s physicality against the run where he engages the block by #8 Elijah Moore on the outside, pushing him into the backfield and sheds the block to wrap up the runner attempting to get to the edge in the backfield, making the play result in no gain.
While Elam has the physical traits to be a great fit at press man, he also possesses the feel and instincts to excel in zone coverage schemes as well. Watch this play against the Crimson Tide where Elam lines up on the bottom of your screen in Cover 3 Cloud as the deep third to the left and drives on the ball with a precise strike through the catch point over the receiver’s shoulder. Elam’s film is littered with PBUs like this one where he is disruptive at the catch point both in man and zone coverage.
When it comes to burst and recovery speed at the corner position, Elam has it in spades, even if he is slow to diagnose and get his hips turned when receivers go vertical, he normally can catch up when he opens up and runs. Watch this tackle Elam makes in their bowl game against UCF when he notices the receiver running the reverse doesn’t step out of bounds, hitting the gas to chase down the ballcarriers along the sideline to bring him down before getting into end zone. A great effort play to prevent the score.
Still, his long speed can be called into question at times when playing twitchier receivers especially in off-man coverage. Elam can be slow to open up his hips and turn and run with receivers down the seam if they manage to stack him effectively. Here is an example from last season against Arkansas where Elam lines up in off-man coverage and stalls his feet as the receiver eats his cushion, giving him a step as Elam opens up as the receiver gets an outside release and effectively stacks Elam vertically and catches the long bomb TD with the defender trailing from behind.
While Elam is a fairly fluid athlete, there are questions about potential hip tightness and ability to flip in his transitions in coverage being a longer corner. Here against Alabama, Elam lines up in the slot over #8 John Metchie III. Metchie runs a deep over concept toward the right sideline while Elam reaches out and grabs him as Metchie gets around him, being slow to turn his hips and run with Metchie across the field. Elam eventually catches up and plays the ball well to force the incompletion, but the combination of the grab and sloppy transition could be a problem for Elam covering more nuanced route runners at the next level.
While Kaiir Elam has shown the aggressiveness to come down hill as a tackler, he tends to run hot-and-cold in terms of effort, occasionally pulling up early or waiting for someone else to come in and do the dirty work for him. He also needs to be more consistent in bringing ballcarriers to the ground by breaking down effectively and driving through the ballcarrier rather than diving at their legs or relying on shoulder tackles.
We see the former here where #9 Bryce Young dumps the ball off to #4 Brian Robinson Jr. in the flat who turns up field for the goal line. Elam serves as the last line of defense but gives too much leverage back to Robinson inside who cuts back, leaving Elam slipping to the ground as Robinson walks in for the score.
Here is an example of the latter stated above where Elam comes in after the runner makes the first defender miss in space, throwing his shoulder into the running back’s legs rather than wrapping him up and driving him out of bounds. The runner maintains his balance on contact and get additional yardage, nearly picking up the first down.
When watching Elam play, you find yourself enamored with his physical gifts and the qualities of length and athleticism you cannot teach. He has the makings to be a high-caliber player both in press man as well as in zone coverage schemes, having the feel for playing tight on receivers at the LOS as well as reacting to what is happening in front of him. As far as pro comparisons come, his length, physical play style, scheme fit, and even inconsistencies closely resemble that of former Seminole and long-time Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes.
Rhodes, like Elam, enjoyed a strong three seasons at Florida State before declaring for the 2013 NFL Draft as a long, physical press corner that could play downhill as a physical tackler that also did a great job at getting his hands into passing lanes to force incompletions. He like Elam is also a great athlete that can struggle at times in off-man coverage in terms of flipping his hips at the right time to react to quick route runners coming out of their breaks, excelling more against long, taller power forward type receivers on the outside who try to win those contested catch attempts.
Rhodes was drafted with the 25th pick in the first round back in 2013, and I could see Elam going in a similar area of the draft as a prospect that has a lot of good qualities but needs a little bit of seasoning to put it all together to be a strong pro player. He will have to continue working on his consistency as a tackler while committing to further film study to recognize those quick breaks so he can open up and transition with receivers trying to gain separation on him.
Pittsburgh may have more pressing needs on their roster but given the uncertain status of Joe Haden and Ahkello Witherspoon heading to free agency, they could elect to replace one former Gator DB with another that has the skill set to become a quality starter sooner rather than later in the league.
Projection: Late Day One to Early Day Two
Depot Draft Grade: 8.6 – Year One Quality Starter (1st Round)
Games Watched: vs Alabama (2021), vs UCF (2021), at USF (2021), vs Virginia (2019)