Pros: Short player, but Elam has an outstanding combination of musculature and quickness and he put up a 35.5-inch vertical leap at the scouting combine. 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. Shows tremendous closing speed when coming down from coverage to tackle and provide run support. 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. Tackles powerfully and with authority when he wraps up and uses proper technique -- surprising strength prevents further yards after contact. 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.
Cons: Lack of height shows up when facing high-pointing receivers, and he could struggle against flex tight ends in close quarters. Will need to be taught how hits in the NFL work -- it's nice that he comes down to give shots with authority, but he's going to rack up a pretty impressive NFL fine schedule the way the game is played today. Tends to go for the kill shot too often and loses the ability to tackle consistently as a result. Will occasionally get caught peeking in the backfield and can be subsequently late on crossing routes.
What he brings to the team: Speed, power, and versatility in an unconventional package. Could be the next Bob Sanders and eases the loss of Ed Reed to a point.
"I play very hard," Elam said at the scouting combine, when asked what he brings to the NFL. "I love to strike people. I feel that's what helped me stand out the most, and I’m very versatile. I can cover the slot receivers, I can go down and cover, I can go in the box and tackle. I can play in the post. I feel like that what make me stand out the most.”
Asking where Matt Elam fits best in a professional secondary may be the typical question, but it won't provide the right answer. In truth, his versatility will be the key to his ultimate NFL success, especially in a league where nickel and dime sets are more common than ever.
Was it the right pick? The Ravens could have gone a few different ways here, but I'm very intrigued by this pick, and I like the fit. Can't wait to see him in this defense.
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