Too often prospect evaluations can get overly focused on what a player can’t do. And it is certainly important to know the limitations in a player’s game. After all, you can’t rightly expect a nose tackle to play man coverage or a wide receiver to be a capable guard.
But it is still more useful to look at what a player can do well. Even if a prospect might not be elite in a certain area, there might be facets to his game which can be hugely beneficial to a team if they are willing to put him in position to emphasize his strengths.
And that’s how any evaluation of Washington DB Elijah Molden should rightly go. Molden lacks elite size, quickness, and speed, and if a team asks him to cover a true Number One receiver in tight man coverage, he’ll probably struggle. But he is an incredibly versatile defensive back who can do a huge number of things well, which caused Washington to play him at just about every spot except defensive line.
That kind of versatility is becoming more and more valued in the modern NFL, as defenses have to deal with more creative and explosive offenses. Let’s take a look at just what Molden does bring to the table.
Prospect: Elijah Molden
Games Watched: vs. California (2019), vs. Oregon State (2020), vs. Stanford (2020), vs. Utah (2020)
Games Played: 36
Tackles For a loss: 7.0
Forced Fumbles: 4
Passes Defensed: 5
Games Played: 4
Tackles For a loss: 1.0
Forced Fumbles: 0
Passes Defensed: 1
Best: Quickness, agility, versatility, competitive toughness
Worst: Top-end athleticism, angles to the ball, height
Projection: An important and versatile defensive back with scheme and positional versatility.
(Molden is DB No. 3)
Washington defensive back Elijah Molden is a versatile player with the ability to play a variety of roles at the NFL level.
Molden played a number of positions for the Huskies’ defense, aligning at deep middle safety, deep half safety, slot corner, outside corner, and a pseudo-linebacker position. He shows good football IQ to be able to execute each of those roles’ duties, as well as communicate with his teammates during the pre-snap phase of the play.
Molden has quick feet and solid speed for most coverage responsibilities. He can match up with most receivers as a slot defender, sticking with them through shallow routes. Molden is able to drop into zone coverage quickly and efficiently, getting good depth and showing discipline when it comes to picking up and passing off receivers in his zone. That discipline also shows itself when playing off-man coverage, trusting his backpedal and not opening his hips too early.
Molden is an aggressive and active run defender as well. He diagnoses plays and reads runs quickly, with a very fast trigger from the second level. Molden is a willing run defender who shows little concern for contact, as well as being a reliable wrap-up tackler. He doesn’t usually go for big hits, but can deliver them when the situation requires.
As athletic and versatile as Molden is, he lacks elite traits for any one position. He lacks the speed and range to be a true center-fielding free safety, the oily hips to be a full-time outside corner, or the size to be a box safety (or STAR safety-linebacker hybrid). While he gives the defense a variety of options for adapting to offenses or disguising coverages, Molden’s limitations come to light when he finds himself matched up against offensive players who do have one of those elite traits.
His aggressiveness can also get the better of him at times, particularly in run defense. In those instances he can take poor angles to the ball and find himself off balance when it comes time to make a play on the ball carrier.
Overall Grade: 7.9 - This prospect should be a reliable contributor immediately and push for a starting job early in his career.
Molden is one of those interesting prospects whose value will figure heavily on the eye of the beholder. He doesn’t fit neatly into any single box, and teams which use more rigid roles in their evaluations and defensive schemes could have him further down their draft boards.
Some teams could view Molden as a deep safety in a Cover 2 or Cover 4 shell, while others could see him as a slot corner in nickel sets, while still others could view him as a strong safety in a Cover 1 or Cover 3 shell. And he could certainly fulfil any of those roles for a defense.
However, his ability to be a defensive Swiss Army knife should be an asset for defenses which value versatility and multiplicity. Molden isn’t any of those safety or cornerbacks, but rather all of them, and is at his best when he can be moved around to help the defense adapt and attack the offense. He is a capable coverage player, as his 12 passes defensed and 4 interceptions in 2019 can attest, as well as a fierce run defender.
Molden might not be the kind of player to truly excel in any one area of defense, but evaluations which start by asking what he can do will reveal the answer to be “a lot.” And while he might not be a true ballhawking safety or shut-down corner, he can still help a defense from just about anywhere in the back seven.