Considering the program's past, Florida has always been known as a producer of eventual NFL talent. Over the past decade, 2012 and 2019 are the only two years where the program hasn’t had a first-round selection. This past draft, Kyle Pitts was taken by the Atlanta Falcons with the fourth overall pick, becoming the highest-drafted tight end ever. Fast forward to the 2022 draft cycle, the Gators have a plethora of talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Currently, the highest-rated player going into the season is cornerback Kaiir Elam. A familiar last name in Gainesville and in NFL circles, he is the nephew of former Baltimore Ravens 2013 first-round pick, safety Matt Elam. His football bloodlines don't stop there, as his father, Abram, played safety at Notre Dame prior to transferring to Kent State to finish out his collegiate career before going on to have a seven-year NFL career. Carrying a strong last name on the back of the No. 5 jersey on game day, Kaiir Elam is now searching to become one of the top cover corners in what appears to be a strong position group early on.
During our daily scouting meeting about prospects, we have a sequence where we present prospects. One constant theme is the number of cornerbacks that have received glowing reviews. One of the earliest evaluations in my scouting region was Elam. Here are some positives and negatives of his evaluation that were shared.
The Good: At just a shade under 6-foot-2 (6016) and 193 pounds, Elam is a big corner prospect. Aggressiveness is one word that was constantly written down while putting together his scouting report. His ability to stab and inch back in his technique proves that he’s a long and agitating press-man corner. Elam understands how to utilize his length at the line of scrimmage because of the technique(s) that he’s required to play. His ability to successfully land in desired areas on receivers' frames has enabled him to have a lot of success when able to get inside the frame of the opposition.
The most eye-catching theme about Elam is his ball skills. Interceptions aren’t always the end-all-be-all for some evaluators, but they are an added asset on a resume that could be used as tie-breakers from some. Whenever a corner prospect lacks ball production, it is usually noted. When they have a considerable amount of production in that area, there will always be scouts that cherish that because defensive prospects that can get the ball back to the offense are essential.
In 25 career games played, Elam has recorded 20 pass deflections to go along with five interceptions. Not only has he been able to frequently create turnovers, but when he’s in position to make plays on the ball, he cashes in on those opportunities. His timing with knowing when to turn his head and locate the ball represents a unique awareness skill at the position and discipline in his technique to not look for the ball unless he’s on a receiver's hip.
Another added element to his game is how strong he is in run support. When runs come to his side, he’s enthusiastic with wanting to peel off blocks and make plays on ball carriers. Often involved and schemed to be within “two-for-one” blocks where receivers crash inside to block safeties while corners are in man coverage—essentially wanting to block two defenders with one in hopes that the corner carries inside with the searching receiver—he has the awareness of knowing not to follow too far inside. Instead, he has the awareness to notice the tactic and peel off from his man coverage assignment to maintain a hard edge with not allowing ball carriers outside to the perimeter.
The Improvable: The most alarming angle of his game thus far is his high pad level combined with false steps at the line of scrimmage. Elam’s aggressiveness and eagerness to land hands on receivers has resulted in surrendering long touchdowns (47-yard TD vs. Arkansas, 45-yard TD surrendered vs. Ole Miss – 2020). While his game is suited to match up well and create boxing matches with bigger wide receivers on the perimeter, his struggles against twitchy/shifty targets are apparent.
Involved in a scheme that values man-to-man coverage, he’s usually tasked with maintaining inside leverage. Despite knowing his positions of power, his false steps and overextending on jam attempts gives it away at the snap of the ball. His rage for physicality causes issues where he wants to grab cloth if he misses on attempts to strike the frame of receivers. Once left playing catch-up or in the trail position, he’s left outside of his comfort zone where he has to be the reactor instead of the aggressor.
Overall, Elam has the height, weight, speed to cause issues to linear built and filled out players on the perimeter, but speedy and fast-moving ones on the outside are the ones that have presented issues for him. A smooth and active athlete, the Gators' corner has the length necessary at the position, but his short-area quickness and recovering abilities after initially being wrong are the two biggest areas that evaluators want to see if Elam can take a step forward with during his third season.