Throughout recent years, the San Francisco 49ers have had a shaky situation going down at the safety position. Dashon Goldson was the questionable heir apparent and Michael Lewis was the strong safety at one point. Goldson did eventually pan out, but he was seemingly always in a contract year and he also always managed to put up just as many lowlights as he did highlights.
Personally, I've been waiting for the 49ers to draft a new safety high for almost five years now. No, Taylor Mays does not count. Unfortunately, the draft has been barren when it comes to safety depth for a long, long time. Finally, that's set to change.
Matt Elam is just one safety in a class that legitimately has, in my opinion, at least four first-round safeties (talent-wise). He made waves with the Florida Gators this season as a big-hitting, playmaking safety, and led the Gators to one of the top defenses in the nation. He trails only Kenny Vaccaro in the race for the top safety in most scouts' eyes.
- A very aggressive player with above average range, Elam can make the north/south hard-hitting tackles just as well as he can make a game-saving play. He can play the line of scrimmage or he can drop back into coverage, and he'll never have to come off the field.
- Elam plays on pure instincts and they're very, very good, at that. His anticipation is impeccable and his angles are top notch. He's like Patrick Willis in the secondary.
- Versatility is a strong point, as he can line up at either safety spot and do well. If he were to play forward like Donte Whitner he'd excel, and if he were expected to defend the deep pass, he'd excel.
- Has very good hip rotation and has great recovery to keep up with the burners of the NFL.
- Elam does have a questionable motor, both mentally and physically. He has a tendency to just get lost in games and can disappear from time to time. He's a big playmaker, but has been as such on a somewhat inconsistent basis.
- His tackling form isn't perfect, which you should see plenty of in the videos below. He makes some bone crushing tackles, but he has a tendency to go low at times, which will hurt him against NFL running backs in the box.
- He's somewhat undersized, but has the perfect physicality to make up for it. Many shorter or smaller players succeed in the NFL when they have the right attitude, but it's always a concern and worth noting.
Doing Your Homework:
You can do your own homework on Elam by watching some tape. Draft Breakdown does a great job with these videos, and you can find him against Florida State, Tennessee, LSU, Vanderbilt, FSU and OSU, and against Auburn. Below is the tape against Texas A&M:
Why He Fits The 49ers:
The 49ers are a team that values versatility, seemingly above all else. While I am extremely against bringing players on with the sole criteria of versatility, Elam is much, much more than that. He's a big hitter and he's able to play just like Goldson, but in a younger, cheaper package with a higher ceiling. He also brings all of the strong play at the line of scrimmage that they get with Donte Whitner.
He fits Vic Fangio's defense like a glove.
Why He Might Not Fit the 49ers:
OK, so I just said he fits like a glove. Elam is pretty undersized and if he can't reign in some of his more aggressive tendencies and his inability to properly tackle at times, the 49ers might not consider him worth the time and effort. They already have a headcase in the secondary and they don't need another person drawing flags and things of that nature.
What They're Saying
- Rob Rang of CBS Sports offers up a brief overall analysis of Elam:
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. Elam shows good vision and anticipation when fighting through blocks near the line of scrimmage and is a reliable, physical tackler.
- Mike Loyko from NEPatsDraft.com suggests that Elam's aggressive style of play won't make Roger Goodell into a fan:
I think both Matt Elam and DJ Swearinger are going to be getting a lot of envelopes from Commissioner Goodell during their rookie seasons— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) January 29, 2013
- Elam comes in as the No. 48 prospect overall on SB Nation's top 100 big board, and in his latest mock, Dan Kadar of SB Nation had Elam going to the Green Bay Packers in the second round of his latest two-round mock draft.
- View his full statline from college at cfbstats.com
On most boards, Elam is the second-best safety in the nation. In my book, he's actually got a higher ceiling than Kenny Vaccaro, who almost certainly will be a first-round pick. I believe Elam is worth a first rounder, especially where the 49ers are picking at No. 31. He's versatile, hard-hitting and athletic. Most importantly: he's a playmaker. The 49ers can never have too many of those.