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Last year, the Vikings traded up to near the end of the first round and took safety Harrison Smith, and that move improved the secondary in such a way that I wish we could clone him. We can’t clone him, but there is one player in this Draft I think plays a very similar game and would make one of the most feared safety duos in the NFL should he be drafted to start next to Smith.
The prospect I am talking about is Florida’s Matt Elam who measures a little short at 5′ 10″ but plays the game of football in a way that will put fear into the hearts of ball carriers or route runners.
At 208 pounds, Elam has an intimidating frame and hits as hard, if not harder, than any defensive player in this class. He may even be more feared for his “big hits” than Smith is. Like Smith, he may occasionally whiff on a tackle by being too aggressive or draw too many penalties but, lets face it, it is worth it.
In high school, Elam played multiple positions on both sides of the football, and made safety his full time role after playing mostly on special teams during his freshman season at Florida. While he saw some time on defense too, Elam’s 22 tackles as a freshman came mostly from excelling in kickoff coverage.
In 2011, Elam became a full time starter as a strong safety, and did so in every game of the season. He made an immediate impact by putting up 78 tackles, led the team with 11 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, seven defended passes, and two forced fumbles. 2012 was even better as he once again was durable enough to play every game, notched 76 total tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, two sacks, a forced fumble, and four interceptions.
Elam had a solid Combine week where he posted a 4.54 second forty time, 17 bench press reps, a 35.5″ vertical, and 118″ broad jump. Elam chose to stand on those results and didn’t participate in timed drills at the Florida pro day, but he did receive high praise from those in attendance during the drills he took part in.
Where Elam fits into a defense is the best is where he is allowed to play in the box, close to the line of scrimmage, and make a play on the ball. He shows incredible instincts and football smarts, seemingly always playing a step faster than anyone else on the field, and uses his strength and tenacity to impose his will on opponents. He is just simply violent.
His big hits and run stopping ability will gain him the most praise, but he also has very good range and is no slouch in the passing game. He might tend to be overly aggressive at times, gambling to make the big play, but otherwise is solid in covering ground sideline-to-sideline and matching up against most pass catchers. You may not want him to man up against Brandon Marshall or Calvin Johnson, but he is going to be plenty capable of covering most slot receivers and even being effective against bigger tight ends. His smarts certainly aren’t limited to diagnosing run plays, and often makes the reads quick enough to be in the right position to defend a pass. One my favorite things about his coverage ability is that even when he gets turned around and out of position, he has the athleticism to catch up and the smarts to watch the receiver’s eyes, understand when the football is coming and where, and get his arm up to disrupt the pass.
Elam isn’t a perfect prospect, but he is well rounded and (as you will see in the video below) certainly has that “wow factor” you want to see in a first round prospect… his big hits. The Vikings retained Jamarca Sanford and still have Mistral Raymond so the situation at safety isn’t as dire as it once was, but I firmly believe that Elam would be a big enough upgrade at the starting spot across from Smith that he would be a great selection for the Vikings at the end of the first round. He would be of great value as a special teams gunner, as well, and I’ve been saying all offseason that the positions in the middle of our defense has to be a high priority after what we saw last season.
In my opinion, Elam is no doubt a top 25 prospect, and the Vikings currently hold #23 and #25. He is a guy worthy of either spot.