[Note:  Want to see a list of every player featured in our “Draft Target” segment?  Click here to visit the Offseason Tracker where there will be a list of all these players.  Check back often as there are plenty more to come!]

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.


  1. Looks like a great prospect but hard to see Vikes spending another high pick at safety when there’ll be good talent available at receiver, D tackle, and linebacker. I feel much better about our trio of safeties than I do about any other defensive position group.

  2. Nice write up Adam… I really like the way Elam and Jamar Taylor play the game. If the Vikings draft one of these shorter DBs I would be ok with it.

    However, my guess is Spielman fell in love with Manti Te’o and Robert Woods a long long long time ago.

    We are a week away from the draft and reports are Ricky has been seen pinching himself and licking his chops.

  3. Great article. I didnt know too much about Elam before this, but in the vide he looks like a top 25 player. I think the vikings needs are to great at linebacker/receiver/defensive tackle to consider a safety in round one. But more depth at safety is a must, and even though the Samford/Raymond platoon was successful last season, I think they need an upgrade at the position.

  4. Elam should be a solid player for a long time, but I tend to agree it would be a bit of a luxury pick for the Vikes to take him in the first, however, you have to go with your board if he’s the top guy and there are no trade partners. I have to say, I am a little concerned by the boom or bust type guys in this draft and if they end having an Ogletree or Patterson fall in their lap it would be wise to use that other pick on a safe quality starter like Elam to balance out the risk.
    Are you going to take a look at Rutgers corner Logan Ryan for the Vikes? I’m eyeballing him as a potential fit in the 3-6th rounds. Not the best athelete, but he’s one of the more physical corners in the draft. Guy was in on 94 tackles last year. Biggest problem I see is potential to be a PI machine when he gets into chase mode.


Leave a Reply