Potential Breakout Players: SS Matt ElamPosted on June 28, 2014 by Will Grabill
Matt Elam Player Profile:
Measurables: 5' 10" 203 lbs 22 years old
Passes Defended: 3
Fumble Recoveries: 2
Pro Football Focus (PFF) Grade: -3.6
The Ravens secondary is going through a lot of turnover after a season where they allowed only a 56.9 completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks, 3rd best in the league. Starting corner Corey Graham signed a 4 year contract with the Bills, and starting safety James Ihedigbo signed with Detroit. These two combined for 7 interceptions, 175 tackles, and 3 forced fumbles last season. With James Ihedigbo playing well at strong safety, Matt Elam had to slide over to free safety. He is moving back to his more natural position at strong safety this season. Here are the safeties in competition for the starting free safety spot or Elam's backup.
Terrence Brooks: The 3rd round pick of the Ravens in the 2014 draft, Brooks is one of the front runners for the starting free safety gig. He is undersized, but had a knack for making big plays during his time at Florida St.
Omar Brown: Brown is in his 3rd season out of Marshall, and has flashed big play ability, but never consistently enough to earn playing time during the season. He will not start, but if he can translate his practice performances onto the field, he could be a spot starter.
Darian Stewart: Signed in free agency after playing for the Rams for 4 years, the 25 year old Stewart could be in line for the starting free safety spot. Though oft injured, his time on the field has been promising. In 2011 he started 13 games and racked up 84 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 11 passes defended and 2 forced fumbles.
Jeromy Miles: Miles has good size for either safety position, but has never done enough to gain reps on defense. He has been a career backup and barring injury or much improved play he will continue his backup safety and special teams role.
Notable 2013 NFL Draft Safeties:
Eric Reid: The only secondary player to make a Pro-Bowl from the 2013 class has made a huge impact on the 49ers defense ever since being selected 18th overall.
Kenny Vaccaro: After the Saints selected him 15th overall, Vaccaro has played very well as a do-it-all safety in Rob Ryan's defensive scheme.
Johnathan Cyprien: Taken just one spot after Matt Elam by the Jaguars, Cyprien was one of the lone bright spots on the Jaguars defense after totaling 104 tackles in his rookie season.
Matt Elam is already one of the top safeties in the 2013 class, and he could be vaulted even higher following a strong 2014 campaign.
The biggest factor in Elam's development this season will be his adjustment to playing strong safety. Though this is his more natural position, he has not yet played it at the NFL level, so it will be a lot more to learn. How well he absorbs this information will be a huge factor towards how the Ravens secondary performs this season. They will get corner Lardarius Webb back for a full season, but there will be a new starter at free safety and at the 3rd corner spot. At strong safety Elam should have more opportunities to be a playmaker around the line of scrimmage, something he excelled at during his time at Florida. Lardarius Webb had some high praise for Elam this offseason -- "The person who is just really growing is Matt Elam. From last year to this year, I see a big jump with his leadership, with him controlling the back end and just being that safety, controlling the calls. I just really like where I see him going.” If this is any indication, Ravens fans can expect a big season from Matt Elam in his second year as a starter.
To fuel some optimism for his development, I will leave you with this.
In the final 3 games of his rookie season Elam recorded 26 tackles and made his only interception of the season, all while playing out of position. Line him up in his more natural position and we should see a meteoric rise in his production on the back end.
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