We here at The Phinsider love a hard-hitting safety as much as anyone. Sure, the rules have changed, but an aggressive striker who's equally adept at roaming in centerfield or creeping up into an eight-man box will get the attention of the opposing offense.
That's the kind of impact Matt Elam had for the Florida Gators in 2012. Despite the misconception that the Gators were an excellent defensive team this season (they really weren't), Elam was a relentless and dependable presence for Florida throughout its schedule:
- Trailing LSU in the second half in early October, Elam chases down a Tigers receiver after a bomb reception and strips the ball, essentially killing LSU's momentum for good that afternoon.
- The Gators in mid-October needed a statement game against SEC foe South Carolina. All Elam did that day was brutalize every Gamecocks ballcarrier in his path and own the middle of the field. SC's shifty, talented-yet-undersized receiver corps wanted no part of Elam that afternoon. Can't say I blame them.
- Trailing late against Florida State at the end of November, Elam goes into full-on Polamalu sledgehammer mode: cheating up on the line of scrimmage to pop the run, slashing through the backfield and also dropping back to play vulture in the secondary. You name it, Elam did it that afternoon.
Other safeties in this class might have more playmaking ability and pure vision then Elam (Texas' Kenny Vaccaro and LSU's Eric Reid come to mind), but none of them come close to the Florida star's flexibility in coverage, physicality and elite-level closing speed. That's why he could be the first safety to hear his name called on draft night.