2021 NFL draft: Washington DB Elijah Molden thrives with elite instincts, competitiveness

Leading up to the 2021 NFL draft, which starts April 29, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five for Nos. 100-51, followed by more in-depth reports on our top 50 players, with help from our scouting assistant, Liam Blutman. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Other prospect rankings: Nos. 100-96 | 95-91 | 90-86 | 85-81 | 80-76 | 75-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. OT Liam Eichenberg | 49. WR Terrace Marshall Jr. | 48. LB Chazz Surratt | 47. EDGE Joe Tryon | 46. OT-OG Alex Leatherwood | 45. CB Asante Samuel Jr. | 44. DL Levi Onwuzurike | 43. LB Jabril Cox | 42. DT Daviyon Nixon | 41. EDGE Ronnie Perkins | 40. LB Nick Bolton | 39. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu | 38. WR Elijah Moore | 37. OT Jalen Mayfield | 36. EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. | 35. CB Elijah Molden | 34. RB Travis Etienne | 33. WR Kadarius Toney | 32. EDGE Jayson Oweh | 31. LB Zaven Collins | 30. DT Christian Barmore | 29. QB Mac Jones | 28. CB Caleb Farley | 27. RB Javonte Williams | 26. C-OG Landon Dickerson | 25. S Trevon Moehrig | 24. CB Greg Newsome II | 23. WR Rashod Bateman | 22. EDGE Greg Rousseau | 21. OT Christian Darrisaw | 20. RB Najee Harris | 19. LB-S Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah | 18. EDGE Jaelan Phillips | 17. OT Teven Jenkins | 16. EDGE Kwity Paye | 15. CB Jaycee Horn | 14. OT-OG Rashawn Slater | 13. OG-OT Alijah Vera-Tucker | 12. WR DeVonta Smith | 11. EDGE Azeez Ojulari | 10. CB Patrick Surtain II | 9. OT Penei Sewell | 8. QB Zach Wilson | 7. LB Micah Parsons | 6. QB Trey Lance | 5. WR Jaylen Waddle | 4. QB Justin Fields | 3. WR Ja'Marr Chase | 2. TE Kyle Pitts | 1. QB Trevor Lawrence

Here are how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Here are how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

35. Washington CB Elijah Molden

5-foot-9, 195 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.95 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Undersized DB who has always belied his frame with elite instincts, highly competitive style

Games watched: BYU (2019), Oregon State (2020), Utah (2020), Stanford (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit, Molden committed to the Huskies and was an immediate contributor as a freshman in 2017, making 19 tackles and one pass defended as a 13-game reserve. In 2018, he made 29 tackles and broke up five passes in 14 games (two starts) and was named UW’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player and second-team all-conference for special teams. Molden earned a starting role in 2019, leading the team in tackles (79), interceptions (four), pass breakups (17) and forced fumbles (three), also recovering one fumble, making 5.5 tackles for loss and earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 13 starts. He earned first-team all-conference honors again in 2020, making 26 tackles (one for loss) and one pass breakup in four games, and was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy (aka the Academic Heisman).

Upside: Terrific positional instincts. Outstanding ability to read and react. Superior quick trigger and good short-area quickness to pounce. Displays some explosion in a small package — good testing numbers in the vertical (37 inches) and broad jumps (125 inches). Loose hips he can flip very easily.

Fearless slot corner who can lock down underneath routes and handle shifty weapons. Lines up inside, outside, at corner and as a blitzer. Showcased safety flexibility in 2020 games vs. Utah and Stanford. Despite long-speed limitations, rarely lets receivers get a step on him — great body control and understanding of leverage. Often beats his man to the spot and cuts off routes before they develop.

Plays bigger than his size and isn’t afraid of delivering contact — scrapper who belies his size. Terrific tackler who drives through his man and typically brings him down — very few missed attempts. Manages to slip blocks and somehow disengage from them consistently to make plays. Attacks the run and screens well and cuts ball carriers' legs out from underneath them.

Washington defensive back Elijah Molden has been one of the best slot corners in college football in recent years. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington defensive back Elijah Molden has been one of the best slot corners in college football in recent years. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Four INTs in 2019 and 17 PDs, also just missing a few more picks. Times up plays on the ball extremely well. Good hand size (9 1/2 inches). Showed some return ability on interceptions — high school RB with great vision after the pick.

Four-down player — projects as a full-time defender and major special teams contributor. Steeped in program DB guru Jimmy Lake who has churned out NFL secondary talent in recent years. Coverage-diverse — comfortable in zone and man. Diagnoses plays quickly and understands concepts like a coach.

Elite intangibles, football character and personal character. Future NFL team captain. Terrific work ethic and commitment to excellence. Huskies staff raves about him, as do NFL scouts who have been through the school.

Downside: Small frame, even by nickel-CB standards — below-average height, weight and short arm length (29 1/2 inches). Turned in a disappointing 40-yard dash time (4.62 seconds) and didn’t run shuttle/3-cone drills. Slot corners at 190-something pounds who run 4.6 40s don’t typically go very high in the draft.

High school injury history, including multiple head injuries — a surgically repaired skull fracture he suffered in 2015 in a 7-on-7 game in Las Vegas and concussion-like symptoms a year later, along with a nagging ankle injury during the state playoffs in 2016.

Almost locked into a slot-corner position. Has dabbled at safety and outside corner but might lack the bulk to handle either full time. Length and speed will always be a limiting factor against bigger, longer and faster vertical receivers.

Fearless style could make him a weekly injury concern. Multiple missed tackles came when playing safety — still adjusting to attacking from different angles. Instincts still developing as a single-high safety and will bite on some double moves. More than willing to be physical, but some blockers can engulf him.

Best-suited destination: Slot corners are starters in this league, so Molden should theoretically have a home on all 32 defenses. There will be some teams that question his size and speed, so his value will vary from club to club. That said, those who overlook this highly instinctive and useful player might end up regretting it.

Did you know: Molden is the son of former New Orleans Saints 1996 first-round draft pick Alex Molden, who overcame a devastating college knee injury to have an eight-year NFL career; he is now a motivational speaker in the Portland area. Elijah’s brother, Isaiah, played defensive line at Western Oregon.

Player comp: He’s not quite as athletic as Budda Baker or Bryce Callahan, not quite as versatile as Tyrann Mathieu and not yet a proven safety, a la Jimmie Ward, but Molden has traits of all three.

Expected draft range: Second- or third-round pick

More from Yahoo Sports: