Editor's Note: Another great write-up from CAeveryday. Still looking for people to help write a profile or two. Email me if interested. Matt
Last season, the Colts defensive secondary ranked as one of the worst in the NFL, allowing opposing teams to average 7.4 yards per pass attempt, a 62.4% completion percentage, and quarterbacks a 90.1 passer rating, as well as only forcing 12 interceptions and a mediocre 32 sacks (ESPN.com). With Antoine Bethea being the only consistent and reliable player over the last few years, the Colts strong safety position is wide open and in desperate need of improvement. Tom Zbikowski and Joe Lefeged were brought in as temporary fixes to get through the season, and even though they performed adequately from time to time, they would be best suited as backups. A priority for the Colts this offseason will be to find a starting Safety, and one guy who can revitalize the defense with his strong talent and energized playmaking skills is Matt Elam out of Florida.
Matt Elam came to the Gators in 2010 as a five-star prospect, being touted as the best high school safety in the nation. In his first season, Elam started on special teams and primarily came off of the bench as a defensive back, playing in all 13 games. As a sophomore he took over the strong safety position, starting in all 13 games and racking up 78 tackles (11 for a loss), 7 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, 1.0 sack, and 2 forced fumbles. Elam continued to improve on his solid play, as an active leader of the 5th ranked Gator defense in his junior season, totaling 76 tackles (11 for a loss), 5 pass breakups, 4 interceptions, 2.0 sacks, and a forced fumble. With stat lines like these, it is no wonder he decided to forgo his last year of eligibility to chase his dream of playing on Sundays.
After being voted first-team All-SEC and first-team All-American, he was invited to the 2013 NFL combine where he continued to make his case as one of the best safety prospects in this years draft. Here are some of the comments from those who watched his workouts and his results:
"Matt Elam from Florida, another really good football player; I have him in the second round."
"He won't tackle you, he'll knock you out."
Mike Mayock, NFL Network Analyst
"UF S Matt Elam keeping his hips sunk deep, effortless backpedal, very nice footwork overall. Drove through ball, made the catch."
Dion Caputi, National Football Post NFL Draft Analyst
"Florida safety Matt Elam, who met with the Super Bowl champion Ravens, ran a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash. For such a hard-hitting prospect to run well, that should provide a boost to his already healthy draft stock. Elam also has looked sharp in the position-specific and agility drills."
Aaron Wilson, Baltimore Sun
The most noticeable quality of Elam's game is how much liveliness and on-field emotion he has, constantly making big hits that always seem to energize the rest of the team around him. He has great vision of the field, very physical play, both run stopping and down the field coverage skills, and he has a natural ball-hawking ability that makes any quarterback second guess throwing down the middle. His few weaknesses are noted as having a tendency to try to hard to make the big play, not wrapping up and making the tackle, and that he is a little undersized for some coaches at 5'10" and 208 lbs. All of these hitches can be quickly fixed and fine tuned, while he makes up for his smaller size with tough, physical play.
Elam is gifted with defensive instincts and athleticism, abilities that simply can't be coached, and has shown no signs of injury problems. He is without question one of the better strong safeties in this year's draft, proving with his 22 tackles-for-a-loss in two years that he can power through an offensive line to stop the running back or fullback from breaking through and hitting the holes.
As it currently stands, he is projected by most to fall in the late 1st to early 2nd round, going as early as pick #29 in one mock (Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com), but his stock is quickly rising. If he is still around when the Colts make the 24th pick of the draft, Matt Elam would be an outstanding selection. Not only does he fill an immediate need at the strong safety position, but he also brings physical play, natural talent, and unmatched energy that will help spark a much-needed fire in the Colts defense. Having Elam put on the horseshoe helmet will allow for the franchise and its fans to give out a huge sigh of relief, as well as provide some sure-to-be highlight reels, for many years to come.
Plays close to the line of scrimmage or in the box very often. At his best when asked to make a play, either blitzing or one on one on the edge. Frequently assigned to cover the slot receiver. There are times when he flashes tremendous disruption when the play is developing in front of him.
Would rather drift laterally against the run rather than plant his outside foot, free outside arm, and force run upfield immediately. For how many hard hitting splash plays he makes, he could be much more aggressive every down. Little urgency to his game. Seen standing around far too often.
Strengths: Athletic, instinctive and quite physical, Elam demonstrated the ability to walk up into the box and be a force near the line of scrimmage while also dropping back into coverage as a single-high safety when coaches called for it -- showing off the type of versatility NFL teams are demanding from today's hybrid safeties. Drops down to cover slot receivers, getting a strong initial jam on them and riding them throughout the first few yards aggressively.
Weaknesses: Lacks preferred size for the position. Too often loses out on 50-50 balls, being forced to attempt to rip away at the hands of the receiver as he attempts to come down with the catch. Highly aggressive downhill tackler who can come in too hot and lose control, leaving cut-back lanes. Tends to lead with his shoulder and will leave his feet to make the lights-out hit, resulting in some ugly lunges and misses.
Compares To: Charles Godfrey, SS, Carolina Panthers -- Godfrey, a former cornerback at Iowa, has emerged as a rock-solid safety for the Panthers and one known for his physical play. Elam has a similar frame, game and mind-set. He has a knack of making big plays at critical moments and therefore could ultimately earn some Troy Polamalu comparisons, but he'll need to clean up his open-field tackling skills to earn that kind of lofty praise.
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