The 2022 NFL Draft is a remarkably deep and talented one, so much so that players who would be considered top prospects in other drafts are afterthoughts in this one.
Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam is a great example of the phenomenon.
Elam is long, athletic, and a sticky cover corner with the skill set and experience to play in multiple schemes. There have been some recent drafts where he might have been the first cornerback off the board.
The New York Giants will be changing defensive schemes in 2022 (and beyond), and one of the changes will be to favor more aggressive coverage and blitz schemes. Could the Giants target Elam to help make that change?
Prospect: Kaiir Elam (5)
Games Watched: vs. Vanderbilt (2020), vs. Alabama (2020 SEC Championship), vs. Alabama (2021), vs. UCF (2021)
Red Flags: Knee (2021)
Games Played: 30
Tackles For a loss: 2.5
Passes Defensed: 20
Games Played: 10
Tackles For a loss: 1.5
Passes Defensed: 5
Best: Length, athleticism, coverage, versatility
Worst: Ball skills, aggressiveness
Projection: A starting cornerback with scheme versatility
Kaiir Elam is a long, athletic, and versatile cornerback prospect from the University of Florida.
Elam is a long cornerback prospect at 6-foot, 1 ½ inches tall, combining enough long speed to run with most wide receivers down the field with quick feet and fluid hips. Elam typically aligned on the outside, playing both the boundary and the field, and both the left and right sides of the defense. He also played slot corner on occasion, though that certainly was not his primary duty.
Elam has experience playing a wide variety of coverage techniques, lining up in man, off-man, and zone coverages, in Florida’s defense. He also played in a good variety of coverage shells as well.
Elam is patient at the line of scrimmage and doesn’t bite on wide receivers’ moves or flip his hips too early. He has a crisp, balanced backpedal that is surprisingly compact for a taller corner. He generally does a good job of staying low in his backpedal and gaining ground with the receiver before opening his hips to turn and run with vertical routes. Elam is generally physical in man coverage and doesn’t allow himself to get bullied by bigger receivers. He also shows impressive savvy in how he uses his body to influence receivers’ routes, forcing outside releases and using the sideline as an extra defender to shrink receiving windows.
He is a smart, aware, and disciplined defender in zone coverage. Elam hits his landmarks quickly in zone coverage, while doing a good job of keeping his eyes in the backfield. He reacts quickly to runs, bubble screens, or quick underneath passes, triggering downfield almost before the target gets the ball. He generally does a good job of picking up and passing off receivers who enter or exit his
Elam is very physical and aggressive at the catch point. He wasn’t challenged often in his final year at Florida, but was disruptive when the ball went his way. Elam uses his length, speed, and closing burst well to close down on receivers. He does a good job of playing receivers’ hands, or playing around the receiver, and knocking the ball away. Elam is also a willing hitter who doesn’t shy away from contact and flashes the ability to be a reliable tackler.
Elam’s aggressiveness is an asset overall, but he might need to try to rein it in at the NFL level. He can become “grabby” at the top of routes, either getting too physical with his hands or grabbing receivers’ jerseys outright. While that much contact down the field is fine at the college level, it will likely get called for defensive pass interference at the NFL level. Likewise, Elam’s aggressiveness can get him in trouble as a run defender. He can struggle to take on blockers at the best of times – particularly against bigger receivers or tight ends – however he can also take himself out of plays.
Elam doesn’t hesitate to come up in run support, but his angles can be too aggressive, putting him in poor position to make good stops. Instead, he often has to resort to arm tackles or grabbing at ball carriers’ feet. He does flash a good form tackle, but too often he isn’t in position to break down, square, wrap up, and drive through the ball carrier.
Overall Grade: 7.3
Kaiir Elam projects as a starting cornerback with versatility and scheme diversity at the NFL Level. Whether Elam begins his career as a nickel corner to rotates onto the field or secures a starting job will likely depend on the situation in which he lands.
There certainly are aspects to his game which he can work on at the NFL level, but Elam has the tools to push for a starting job early in his career. The NFL generally loves long man coverage corners with the ability to play press-man, and Elam brings that skill set. He’s relatively high-cut and his transitions can be a bit “leggy”, but that shouldn’t be a surprise from a taller corner. He probably shouldn’t play in the slot or be asked to cover particularly shifty wide receivers. However, he has great length, good physicality, and the long speed to turn and run with most receivers in the NFL.
That Elam has experience in man and zone coverage, playing on the line of scrimmage and in deep coverage zones, is an asset that should appeal to a variety of teams.
Teams will want to work with Elam to harness his aggressiveness, particularly at the top of routes. Physicality and disruptiveness are all well and good, but defensive pass interference calls are both easier to get in the NFL and far more costly than in college.
Elam’s overall grade is held back a bit by his tackling and run defense, but he has the profile of a player who could be the top cover corner in most draft classes.