Having written a summary article on the Baltimore Ravens draft class of 2013, this today is the first of round-by-round individual looks at each of the players after a season with the team. So we begin with the one choice who was a starter and played consistently – Matt Elam.
Elam was the final pick (#32) of the first round of the draft after three years at the University of Florida. He was selected because he was one of only a handful in the draft with the ability to be physical enough to play in the box, yet with the speed to manage deep coverage. Harbaugh desires his safeties to have such dual versatility.
Elam had a reasonably strong rookie season, as his 77 tackles ranked fourth on the Ravens. But the Florida native was not pleased with his first year. “I don’t think I played good at all,” said Elam just after the final game. “I have very high expectations for myself, and of the goals and expectations that I set for myself this year, I probably met three out of 10 of my goals. I feel like I let myself down this season.”
There is definitely a lot of pressure that goes with being a first-round pick, and especially when playing the position formerly occupied by Ed Reed. “I feel like I had a lot to prove because they chose me first and they were expecting big things from me. I put a lot of pressure on myself,” said Elam. “You want to come in and do that job and do what they expect you to do.”
Harbaugh was less hard on the rookie, saying, “He didn’t make too many mistakes for a guy who played that many repetitions as a safety, so it’s a good start for him … He’s fast, he’s physical, and he’s going to understand the expectations a little more. He’s going to anticipate checks a little better. He’s going to understand what it means to stay deep when you’re supposed to stay deep.”
Elam was beaten for some big plays over the season, particularly on week 17 against the Bengals with a 53-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green. Harbaugh said, “He was in the right spot most of the time doing the right things. Not 100 percent; it showed up in the Cincinnati game. But for the most part, he was solid back there. He can build on that and he will.”
Forced into a starting role at free safety early in the season when free agent Michael Huff did not work out at all, a 2014 move to strong safety leads most folks around the Ravens believe Elam will better excel in what is a more natural position for him. And that would seem to be the most likely plan, as James Ihedigbo will be a free agent and his two-year run in Baltimore appears to be over. In answer to a question put to Ozzie Newsome about the Ravens’ greatest offseason need, he replied, “I think we need to have a more athletic safety.”
Who might that be? Among names discussed is of course the top-rated safety in the draft, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama – though he may not still be available when the Ravens pick 16th or 17th. (He was not there for me to pick in our FanSided mock draft!) Other names include Calvin Pryor of Louisville and Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois.
The play involving A.J. Green in the Bengals game on week 17 may well stand out as a low moment of the season for Elam. Another difficult game was the slippery snow-fest in Baltimore against the Vikings. As I understand it, Elam had never actually seen or experienced snow in his lifetime. And it looked like it when he slipped while attempting to change directions against Cordarrelle Patterson on a long touchdown pass in the final two minutes.
Elam’s best game was against the Lions, where after indiscreetly referencing Calvin Johnson as kinda old, it was Megatron who had the bad game with the dropsies, while Elam sealed the win with his only interception of the year. Known in college for creating turnovers, the lack of such was a personal frustration and disappointment for Elam with the Ravens in 2013. But chances are that he will get his share over his career.
So hopefully the Ravens will be able to move Elam to his better position, and combined with the education of his first full season, Baltimore fans will see a strong defender playing at the top of his game. And speaking of education, that is what Elam is doing in the offseason – having returned to the University of Florida to continue work on completing his degree in anthropology.