[Update 3/6: The report below has been updated from the summer to reflect Elam’s status heading into the 2022 NFL Draft and new film clips have been added to the end.]
Kaiir Elam is one of the top cornerback prospects in this year’s NFL Draft class. He has the size, speed and athletic ability that will catch the eyes of every scouting department, including the Las Vegas Raiders.
CB | Florida | 6’2” and 196 lbs | Riviera Beach, FL | May 5th, 2001 (20.8)
Kaiir Elam came to Florida as a four-star recruit and earned a starting spot towards the end of his freshman season before becoming a full-time starter as a sophomore. While primarily playing as an outside corner in the Gators’ zone coverage-heavy defense, Elam racked up 78 total tackles, five interceptions and 15 pass breakups. The Riviera Beach native is also allowed a 45 percent completion percentage, 619 yards and five touchdowns in three years.
The Elam family tree has some deep NFL roots. Kaiir’s father, Abe, had a seven-year career with a handful of teams, and his uncle, Matt, was the Raven’s first-round pick in 2013.
- Excellent height and length for an NFL cornerback
- Bends his knees and gets low in his stance when playing press, and he displays great patience at the line of scrimmage in press coverage to avoid biting on head/shoulder fakes from the receiver
- When using a one-arm jam, he has solid placement and strength to slow receivers down a bit, and he keeps his feet moving when shooting his hands (one- or two-arm jam) to help stay in phase if the receiver swipes his hands away
- Good footwork at the line of scrimmage to get or maintain a leverage advantage, with very fluid hips and impressive acceleration to turn and run quickly
- As the boundary corner against vertical routes, he uses the sideline as his friend by widening receivers to limit the throwing area for the quarterback
- Against drag routes, he uses his arms to feel the route and help stay on top of receivers and has the speed to stay in phase if he does have to play from a trial position
- He has a nice second gear to cover deep routes, which is especially helpful after the break on posts
- Good change of direction and route recognition to cover outs in man coverage, and he does a decent job of dropping his hips and using his hands against curls and comebacks
- In zone coverage, he has excellent peripheral vision to keep his eyes on the quarterback while still being able to recognize and break on routes
- Doesn’t take the cheese as an underneath defender in zone coverage
- He understands spacing in zone coverage by taking leverage steps to maintain his advantage
- His fluid hips allow him to redirect and effectively switch when playing pattern match
- Impressive click and close with the acceleration to be able to make plays on the ball or limit yards after the catch
- When facing the quarterback, he has great timing with his hits or hands to break up passes at the catch point
- Turns and locates the ball in the air when in phase with his back to the quarterback
- Long arms make it easy for him to get PBUs
- Shown the versatility to cover the slot as well and travel with the opponent's top receiver
- Displays a comprehensive knowledge of where he fits in when fitting against the run, and his acceleration allows him to fill the alley in a hurry
- The effort is there on outside runs to his side as he’s not afraid to take on blocks or come up and make a tackle slightly past the line of scrimmage
- He can use his speed and athleticism to avoid blocks
- Dropped miss tackle rate down to 10 percent this past season, per PFF
Areas for improvement:
- Lacks the strength to hold receivers at the line of scrimmage in press coverage or force re-routes when playing the underneath areas in zone coverage
- Is also a little too passive with his jams
- Bigger wide receivers or tight ends have few problems getting open on ins against him because he can’t affect them with his hands and struggles to hold up against physicality
- He’s a tick late to recognize curls and comebacks which could be an issue at the next level against quarterbacks who throw with good anticipation
- Has a habit of getting a little grabby down the field, he got called for seven pass interference penalties per PFF in 2021
- He has far from natural hands as he will drop interceptions that he can’t body catch and cradle in
- His lack of strength will cause him to get bullied by larger receivers and tight ends against the run and makes it difficult for him to get off their blocks
- Takes too deep of angles and over pursues when open-field tackling
- Inconsistent tackler, he likes to dive at the ball carrier’s feet and will miss tackles, 25 percent missed tackle rate in 2020, per PFF. He started tackling higher as a junior but wasn’t bringing his feet with him, so he’s gotten better but still might have issues in the NFL.
- 2021: Knee Sprain (missed 3 games)
NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board ranking: 34th, 2nd round
I get the feeling Elam is going to shoot up some draft boards or be drafted higher than what he’s being projected at right now. He’s undoubtedly behind Sauce Gardner, who will likely be a top-10 pick, but Elam is firmly the second “tall corner” in this draft class. So, if a team is out of reach for Gardner but likes those lanky cornerbacks who can run, the Florida product isn’t a bad consolation prize. To me, he’s in about the same tier as Andrew Booth and Elam has what you can’t coach, size, so I have to give a slight advantage to the latter.
The former Gator is another prospect that is somewhat scheme versatile. While I do think he would thrive most in a zone-heavy system, he has a proven track record of success in man coverage and has the skills to be successful there as well.
What do we need to know?
Can he add some size and strength and still be as explosive? Whether he plays in a man or zone scheme, Elam’s biggest weakness is his inability to manipulate wide receivers’ routes with physicality. If he can play at about 205 pounds and still be explosive, he should have the strength to improve in that realm and hold up better at the top of routes against bigger bodies.
Fit with the Raiders:
With Las Vegas in need of a cornerback, Elam would make a lot of sense in the first round. He has the skills and mental processing if new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham wants to run a lot of zone coverage as he did in New York, to go along with the athleticism to hold up in man.
I see two things that could get in the Raiders’ way, one that’s in their control and one that isn’t. The latter would be the scenario referenced above, another team looking for a long-limbed corner that’s picking in the mid to late teens. The other scenario is if Dave Ziegler wants to address another part of the roster like offensive line or defensive tackle. It would be hard to blame the new general manager, as those are weak spots too, but I’d be shocked if Elam made it to pick 53.
Beautiful rep playing the deep 1/3 here from Kaiir Elam:— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) July 29, 2021
-Smooth turn and run transition and gets his eyes to QB
-Uses peripheral vision to watch the WR and breaks on the rout
-Quick click and close allows him to contact the WR at the catch point and force an incompletion pic.twitter.com/V0blrWe01K
Florida is playing cover one here but Elam‘s responsibility – top of the screen – is pretty similar to a cover three call in Bradley’s defense. Elam is showing press pre-snap, but it’s soft press as he turns and runs right off the snap.
The first things that stand out are his footwork and hip fluidity to make the transition. Then, he immediately gets his eyes to the quarterback and shows some impressive peripheral vision to recognize the route and basically run this slant for the receiver. To cap things off, a quick click and close allows Elam to contact the receiver at the catch point and force an incompletion.
Great timing from Kaiir Elam to bait the throw and converge the catch point for a PBU pic.twitter.com/jMaj4Zg1RK— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) July 29, 2021
On this one, we’re going to see some versatility from the Gator as he’s in the slot, covering South Carolina’s top receiver from last season, Shi Smith. Off the snap, Elam works to get outside leverage and shows great patience to wait until Smith commits to leave the line of scrimmage. He then hits the breaks on the stab route and baits the quarterback by leaving enough room to entice a throw while still being able to make a play on the ball.
As a DB, if you’re gonna play in the box, you gotta be able to play against the run. Elam shows great speed and athleticism to avoid the block, come under control and make the TFL here pic.twitter.com/SwDLQg0aU6— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) July 29, 2021
Here, the Gators are running cover six and Elam is responsible for the deep quarter at the top of the screen. South Carolina is going to throw a wrinkle at him with the double move from the wide receiver, but he does a great job of showing patience, staying deep and not biting on the double move to keep the wideout in front of him. Elam finishes the rep by showing off more of that great timing and ball skills to force an incompletion.
Apologies for the poor editing/trimming on the clip, but I swear this was an incompletion. My video editing team, which is just me, is terrible and should be fired.
Another great example of Elam’s ability to click and close, and his timing to get PBUs pic.twitter.com/0leNlgAxbC— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) July 29, 2021
To wrap things up, we’ll look at one more example of Elam’s ability to click and close. He’s playing in a zone coverage here and once he sees that receiver break towards the flat, the Gator is all over the route. At the catch point, he has great timing and plays the hands to force Texas A&M into a third and long situation.
Here’s a great example of Elam’s patience at the LOS and UOH to give 0 breathing room versus a curl pic.twitter.com/8giGy6heAX— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 6, 2022
Katie Elam vs Jameson Williams, man to man with no safety help. Elam stays patient at the LOS & forces Williams wide to give Young little to no room to throw this ball, beautiful fro by the CB pic.twitter.com/cJSPSazVKc— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 6, 2022
Katie Elam playing in the slot M2M vs John Metchie. Elam thinks he has safety help $ plays trail, but the safety gets caught w/ eyes in the backfield. Elam recovers & plays the hands, incomplete pic.twitter.com/vadWCWz7le— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 6, 2022
Nice rep by Elam here in the slot:— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 6, 2022
-Press & lands punch to disrupt the route
-Does take a tick too long see the curl
-Makes up for it with closing speed & by playing the hands for a PBU pic.twitter.com/5mUsBiIVug