Florida CB Kaiir Elam selected 23rd overall by Buffalo Bills in 2022 NFL Draft

Kaiir Elam
Photo credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Former Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam is headed to Upstate New York.

Elam, the South Florida cornerback prospect, becomes the first Gator to be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft as the Buffalo Bills selected him with the 23rd overall pick.

Bills fans, meet your new corner! You can watch his highlights here.

Elam is quickly going to make Bills Mafia very happy. He does have some room to improve his craft, but his ball skills and fearless-yet-humble attitude are going to translate very well to the next level.

The first thing to know about Kaiir Elam is his pedigree- he has the NFL defensive back gene in his blood. His father, Abram Elam, played seven years as a safety in the pros, primarily with the Cowboys and Jets. And his uncle Matt Elam- also a standout at the University of Florida from 2010-12- was a first-round selection and roamed the Ravens’ secondary for four years as a safety.

Let’s start with the physical attributes. He’s big enough- 6’1, 190 lbs. He’s fast enough- he runs a 4.39 40-yard dash and a 6.98 three-cone drill. And he’s incredibly aggressive and confrontational- in a make-the-first-move-and-force-an-opponent-to-beat-me kind of way, not the Chauncey Gardner-Johnson trash-talking sort of way.

One area where Elam was never really weak but went from good to great to elite at Florida, was his ability to change directions. He never really got burned, per se, as a freshman in 2019, but there were times when some elite receivers gained a step on him. That stopped happening by his sophomore season, as he took his agility and recovery speed to the next level, and in the rare cases where receivers did gain a step on him, Elam would quickly recover and bring the receiver-cornerback combat back to neutral. His acceleration and explosiveness in small areas also meant he could play a nice role in run support if he had to.

Elam also relies heavily on his intelligence, which when paired with his natural athletic ability makes him extremely difficult to throw on. His play recognition skills turn him into a proactive, rather than reactive, player to the point where running the same route on him enough times means instant death for the offense’s possession. More than once at Florida, Elam detected a play before the ball was snapped, disregarded his assignment, jumped the route, and picked the ball off. (And no, this did not cost him one single time.)

The one thing Elam might be able to get better at is footwork. It was certainly above average for an SEC cornerback, but sometimes it felt like he was relying on an explosive first step and short-range speed to recover from being a half-step out of place. That recovery ability worked in the SEC, and it’s certainly a great safety net to have in the NFL, but improving on his footwork to limit the number of times he’s forced to recover in the first place could take him to the next level as a cover corner.

As for why Kaiir Elam wasn’t taken higher than he was? Injuries to his knee kept him off the field in 2021, and it would be journalistically irresponsible of me to not at least mention that as a cause for concern for him. But if he can stay healthy, continue to improve his footwork, and learn the overall speed of the NFL game, he’s likely going to enjoy a long, lucrative professional career.

Best of luck, Kaiir. Florida’s entire fan base knew from the minute you committed that you were going to be special for the Gators, and it was a pleasure to watch that collective prediction play out correctly. Here’s to all the success in the world at the highest level of professional football.

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