Leading up to the NFL Draft, which kicks off April 28th, Red Kingdom will be spotlighting individual prospects that could be available for the Chiefs in the first round, at 30th overall. Today, we shine the spotlight on the cornerback position with Florida Gators Cornerback Kaiir Elam.
No one knows exactly where Brett Veach and the front office will look in the first round, but the team needs have changed slightly with the Juju Smith-Schuster signing this week. The greatest needs for the Chiefs this offseason are defensive line, cornerback, and tackle. Those needs could change with more additions in free agency and leading up to the draft.
Kaiir Elam was born on May 5th, 2001, in Florida. His father, Abram, played seven NFL seasons for the Jets, Browns, Cowboys, and Chiefs. He was selected as the Palm Beach Defensive Player of the Year in high school. Elam was a four-star recruit out of high school, ultimately landing offers from Georgia and Miami before committing to the Gators. He was the 6th ranked cornerback in the nation when he committed to Florida.
Elam played three full seasons at Florida and appeared in 30 games. He logged five interceptions and 20 pass-defends in those three seasons. He allowed just 19 catches on 39 targets in 2021 for 191 total yards allowed. Against Alabama in 2021, he allowed just two catches on seven targets against top-tier talent in John Metchie and Jameson Williams.
Sports Illustrated lists the Chiefs as a team fit for Elam. The latest CBS Sports mock draft has Elam falling into the second round. NFL.com profiles Elam as a “future plus starter” and graded him a 6.35 out of 8 on their prospect scale. With Charvarius Ward now signed with the 49ers, the Chiefs will look to replace his production, and Elam would be a solid fit to replace him in Spagnuolo’s scheme.
Not only is Elam fast, but he’s also very physical at the position. At 6’1″ 191, Elam is the perfect size to play Corner in the NFL. He plays physically at the line of scrimmage. He excels both in man and zone coverage. These are outstanding qualities that should make Elam a plus starter at the cornerback position in the NFL for years to come. However, the most impressive trait may be his contested-catch skills.
Elam, a former high-school wide receiver, can go up and get the football. Kansas City has often employed under-sized corners that have struggled over the top and against larger wide receiver talents. We saw this last season with Ja’marr Chase. In 2022, the AFC West is loaded at wide receiver, and the Chiefs will need stronger cornerback play that can compete with the likes of Davante Adams, Mike Williams, and Courtland Sutton.
In the play above, Elam mirrors the wide receiver (in this case, one of the very best in the game, Jameson Williams) and allows virtually zero separation on the route. We saw Chiefs’ corners playing soft coverage many times last season, allowing separation. This bit them many times, certainly so against top wideouts like Chase. Elam could change that. With the size and speed to cover anyone and the football IQ to prevent separation, Elam should be a CB3 talent day one in the NFL, with upside to start alongside Sneed and keep Fenton in a slot-corner role.
As with all prospects, Elam isn’t without fault. Elam sometimes allows too much opening on the early route despite his strength and speed. This creates some inconsistency in his coverage techniques. He can get beaten badly, biting inside while the route runs past him on the outside due to his overaggressiveness. If Elam can refine his approach and find consistency in his route coverage, then these shortcomings could improve quickly.
Elam’s over-aggressiveness shows in penalties as well. He was penalized seven times for pass interference in 2021. Some scouts feel that Elam played “lazier” in 2021, which led to more panic-and-grab in his game this season. Thus, leading to more penalties. He was caught flat-footed more often in 2021 and compensated with more grabs and pulls in his game.
Between allowing too much early room in the route and struggling against vertical deep threats at times, Elam reminds me somewhat of Marcus Peters. He could be an outstanding corner in the NFL but get burned often due to his overaggressiveness. It’s great when it pays off, but when it doesn’t, he’s giving up deep yardage.
If the Chiefs draft Kaiir Elam with pick 30, he slots right into the depth chart behind L’Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton. He wouldn’t need to be a lockdown option from day one. It would give him a chance to learn the speed of the NFL and hopefully improve the boom-bust aspect of his game at the same time.
Kansas City already lost Charvarius Ward to Free Agency. Aside from Sneed and Fenton, the Chiefs have tendered ERFA Deandre Baker. Mike Hughes is currently a free agent and expected to receive popular interest across the league. The Chiefs also have Chris Lammons and Dicaprio Bootle on their cornerback depth chart.
With many questions about the position and a slight lack of depth, the Chiefs could certainly look to add both in free agency and in the draft. Kaiir Elam fits the position’s need and provides some long-term upside of a future lockdown piece at the position.
Do you think Kaiir Elam would be a good fit for this Chiefs’ defense? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion.
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