Though the consensus seems to be in favor of the Green Bay Packers heavying up on defenders in April’s draft, there are those pounding the table in favor of an influx of multiple cornerbacks and another faction that is leaning more toward strengthening the pass rush in the early to middle rounds by enlisting the services of a variety of edge defenders that can inject new life in the front seven.
Luckily, the Packers have enough picks—nine with yesterday’s procurement of a fifth-round compensatory draft choice—to satisfy both requirements. But although the specific positions of need have been long ago delineated, the front office would also be well advised to take a wide-lens view of the available talent in an effort to add genuine playmakers to the roster at whatever role they may have been used in as student athletes.
Difference-makers come in a vast array of shapes and sizes, but the one common denominator among many of these special prospects is their versatility to wear many hats and contribute on all four downs.
One such player is a corner that isn’t ranked in the top-10 among NFL hopefuls at his position, but has nearly all the physical and intangible attributes to perform as an every-down Swiss Army knife for whatever pro team decides to take a plunge with him in about two months’ time.
That individual would be Nashville, Tennessee’s own Corn Elder from the University of Miami—better known in some parts as “The U”.
If speed is your need, watch Elder run down Dalvin Cook from behind on a play where the ball carrier seemed to be totally in the clear. His listed 4.58 pre-combine 40 time isn’t indicative of the back-seven defender’s game speed.
But if instincts are your cup of tea, watch the young defensive back go into full-body extension, as he dives to deflect an accurately-thrown ball that was inches away from landing into the hands of the Seminole receiver Travis Rudolph.
Toughness, you say? Observe No. 29 come off his block and square up on Georgia Tech running back Clinton Lynch while proceeding to drive him back and slam the helpless running back into the turf.
But can the man cover receivers down the field? Well, cue up the footage and watch Elder stay tight with Appalachian State slot receiver Deltron Hopkins and deny his adversary upfield access while then stepping in front of his man on the well-executed pass breakup.
And in case you were wondering about the former Hurricane’s special-teams’ prowess, one can dial up any number of plays in which Elder is seen accelerating past the opposition and being the first player to greet the return man.
Combine all that with the former four-star recruit’s football IQ to diagnose routes and his experience playing both man and zone along with exhibiting great timing as a blitzer and it’s quite clear that Elder is quite possibly one of the best-kept secrets in the draft.
What the first-team All-ACC cornerback does lack is elite size at roughly 5-foot-10, 187 pounds which will likely influence talent evaluators to pigeonhole him as a slot defender.
Though inside corners may not be as highly coveted as those that line up on the boundary, safeguarding the slot is just as vital as keeping bigger long-striding outside receivers in check.
In fact, over the course of a game, smaller, shiftier pass catchers are often on the receiving end of a higher percentage of targets given the quickness with which the Julian Edelman and Doug Baldwin types get open.
Elder also possesses the edge to attack the box from the safety position and in many ways compares favorably to impending free-agent Micah Hyde—albeit a faster version—in his ability to fill in wherever he’s needed.
While last year’s defense by and large underperformed, it was do-anything performers, such as Hyde and Morgan Burnett that emerged late in the year to help fuel Green Bay’s eight-game winning streak heading into the NFC Championship game.
Throughout the interview, Elder maintained a confident and even tone without a hint of arrogance or braggadocio in his responses.
Just one week away from joining hundreds of other NFL prospects put their bodies to the test in front of 32 pro teams, the well-spoken, but hard-edged rookie-to-be communicated his thoughts like a man who was ready to take on everything destiny has in store for him.
Q: You led the Hurricanes in pass breakups for the second consecutive season with 12 and you’ve played in all 13 games three years straight. You come into this draft with some impressive credentials. What stands to you about your senior season at the U and your four years in Miami overall?
A: What stands out to me the most is just how my tackling skyrocketed this year. You know with the new coaching staff coming in, they really emphasized tackling in the secondary and that’s something I bought into. That’s something that I took to another level. I have a lot of great memories. As a team, the best one would be the Duke game my junior year (see game-winning 75-yard kickoff return as time expired). That’s something that was very special and then just meeting all the guys and all the relationships over the years.
Q: Coming out of high school, you were ranked as the No. 2 running back in the state of Tennessee. Can you talk about the transition you had to make from offense to defense and more specifically from playing running back to lining up at the cornerback position?
A: It was tough. You know playing corner is the hardest position there is in football. Covering guys is something I definitely wasn’t used to, but I had some older guys that helped me out throughout the process. I had guys I could look up to and then I just kept working hard. I also had great coaching staffs that developed my game.
Q: How was it like playing under first-year coach Mark Richt, who has started to turn things around at the program with nine wins and a bowl victory over West Virginia following five sub-par years under Al Golden, who only won 25 games in his five years at the helm from 2011 through 2015?
A: It was great. He brought a winning mentality back to the U and with his track record—he’s a winner. He brought a different mindset to the team and was a mentor on and off the field. I think he has the program headed in the right direction.
Q: And how was it like playing in Manny Diaz’s high-risk/high-reward system this past season?
A: It was a lot of fun. His defense is a lot of fun to play in. It includes taking a lot of risks with a lot of blitzing and a lot of man-to-man—me versus you. That’s something I definitely enjoyed. He made it fun for us.
Q: How has your offseason gone so far and what one area are you working on in order to stand out at the upcoming combine?
A: My offseason is going well. I’ve really been working on my strength and trying to get my weight up. At the combine, I’m hoping to test well in everything. I’ve definitely been working on everything with my db drills. But my main goal is to focus on my strength and my weight.
Q: From a talent standpoint, you’re the complete package in terms of your toughness, coverage ability and instincts to anticipate plays. Does it irritate you when people in the media project you as a mid-to-late round draft pick because of your lack of elite size at about 5-foot-9 to 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds?
A: I really don’t pay attention to all that. I’m just going to continue to do what I’m doing and getting ready for the combine. My film speaks for itself and will do all the talking.
Q: Do you get insulted when people peg you as a slot corner, even though in today’s game that’s actually a premium position since a lot of defenders have trouble defending those shifty inside receivers?
A: I can play either position (slot or boundary). I’ve played both [positions] in college and I played both pretty well. But whatever team that drafts me wants me to do, that’s what I’ll do.
Q: Do you get a chance to watch a lot of the Packers? What is your impression of the team?
A: I definitely watch the Packers. One of my former teammates, Ladarius Gunter, plays there. I talk to him a lot. I definitely enjoy watching the Packers play. And because [Gunter] plays there, I definitely root for them.
Q: What does Ladarius tell you about the NFL?
A: We just talk about how it’s a business. He tells me to stay focused.
Q: Sam Shields is a guy that played at the U and had a very successful career with the Packers. Is he the type of player you compare yourself to or are there others that you think you share similar traits with at the next level?
A: I’ve watched Sam Shields play, but I try to do my own thing. One player that I definitely try to model my game after is Tyrann Mathieu with the way he plays on the field and how he’s always around the ball. He’s just a playmaker and that’s what I try to do.
Q: Any reservations about playing in the cold Green Bay weather?
A: I played in the cold in high school. I don’t have a problem with it.
Q: What would you say is the most underrated part of your game?
A: Probably my coverage. I feel like I’ve had a good year in pass coverage. I followed every team’s number-one receiver and I held my own pretty much every game. I feel like once you really watch the film, people will realize that.
Q: What are you looking to run at the combine?
A: I’d rather not make a projection. I’ll see what I get.
Q: What was the last movie you saw and what is your favorite movie of all time?
A: I watched a movie last night on NetFlix called The Corey Weissman Story. My favorite movie of all time is Like Mike.
Q: Who is your favorite athlete outside of football?
A: Definitely Stephen Curry.
Q: What does Corn Elder like to do when he has some free time?
A: I just like to hang out with my friends or maybe go to the mall and play video games. I’m a big [NBA] 2K guy.
Q: If you were talking to a GM and what words would you use to describe yourself as a person, player and as a teammate?
A: Tough, playmaker and accountable.