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Elam, Thomas Will Have Packers Second-Guessing Size Requirements in Secondary

Florida safety Matt Elam. Photo by Brian Carriveau of CheeseheadTV.com.

Not since Ted Thompson directed his first Draft as the Packers general manager back in 2005 has he selected a defensive back shorter than 5-11.

There are two safeties in the the 2013 Draft class, however, that will give the Packers pause. Florida's Matt Elam measures in at 5-10, while Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse just barely checked in at 5-9 at the NFL Combine, and the biggest question about both of them is whether they'll be able to overcome their height limitations in the NFL.

"I'm a true believer that it don't matter what height you are. If you can cover, you can cover," said Thomas. "You see Earl Thomas in the NFL, he covers big tight ends. He's only 5-9, 5-10. So I just go out there and compete, work on my technique each and every day."

Height among safeties in the NFL is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There's really not that many good ones that are shorter than 5-11, so to an extent, height isn't frequently something the Packers have to worry about when it comes to the Draft.

But Elam and Thomas aren't borderline NFL players. They're uber-athletic and guys who could very likely be off the board by the end of Day 2 of the Draft.

Thomas, in particular, tore up the Combine. He ran the fastest 40 time among all safeties (4.42 seconds), put up the most reps on the bench press (28) and leaped the highest in the vertical jump (40.5 inches).

Because of his size and stature, Thomas has heard many people compare himself to former Indianapolis Colts safety Bob Sanders, an opinion shared by Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview" analyst Paul Guillemette.

"I think he's going to be very much in the pros like Bob Sanders coming out of Iowa," said Guillemette. "I think, unfortunately, he may have the same type of injury-type issues that Sanders had, because he just throws his body around, and it's strong and muscular, but it's tightly wound.

"The tightly wound guys are the guys that are prone to the pulls and the hammies and the groins. I like him a lot and so do the scouts, but there are concerns about him physically holding up."

In Thomas' defense, he said he checked out well in the medical examinations at the Combine and don't have a long history of being injured during his college days.

Like Thomas, Elam was no slouch at the Combine either as his 40 time of 4.54 ranked in the top five among players at his position.

At Florida, Elam was part of an elite defensive unit that ranked No. 5 nationally in total defense, No. 5 in scoring defense and No. 4 in run defense in 2012. His 11 tackles for a loss in each of the past two seasons comes as impressive for someone playing in the secondary.

It's Elam's athleticism that he feels compensates for any concerns about his height.

“I feel like that’s an advantage, I’m very athletic," said Elam. "Growing up I was very athletic, and I feel like that separates me a lot. I’m not the biggest safety, I guess, but I feel like I play hard and that makes me stand out.”

It's the new breed of tight end in the NFL that has the Packers and most other teams looking for tall safeties that can stick in coverage down the seam and not simply be thrown over. The Packers' own Jermichael Finley, the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and the Saints' Jimmy Graham are prime examples.

Green Bay is presumably in the market for a safety after releasing aging veteran Charles Woodson this offseason. Both M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian have the potential to line up opposite Morgan Burnett, but neither has played good enough to prove they're the unquestioned starter moving forward.

After targeting defensive backs six feet and over for much of Thompson's reign as general manager, the Packers perhaps relaxed their standards last season by picking a pair of DBs who were 5-11 in last year's Draft in McMilian and Casey Hayward.

According to Elam, there's more to playing safety than just being tall, and he has an entire arsenal of other traits at his disposal that sets him apart from other players at his position.

"I play very hard," said Elam. "I love to strike people. I feel that's what helped me stand out the most, and I’m very versatile. I can cover the slot receivers, I can go down and cover, I can go in the box and tackle."

Thompson will most certainly consider the entire package when the Draft rolls around, but whether the Packers willing to go an inch or more below their 5-11 glass floor remains to be seen.

For the Packers, the Draft is frequently about maximizing value and minimizing risk. They're more willing to take chances on players with question marks in the later rounds where there's a lesser investment.

What's different about Elam and Thomas is that they'll very likely already be gone by the later rounds.

Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas. Photo by Brian Carriveau of CheeseheadTV.com.

Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (19) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

mark's picture

God I love Matt Elam.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ue7wlWAhgg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BR8U-kIl3k
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2MX2Hd6rU4

The tape speaks for itself...He sticks to guys like glue, even the big TEs (so much for being small). He moves into the box, sheds tackles and drops guys. He makes the big play again and again. And my lord does this guy love contact!! He's one of those seek and destroy types. When scouts and people talk about guys being "a football player" passion for the game, intangibles, etc--I see it all in Matt Elam.

Imagining this high-effort, heat-seeking missile patrolling our secondary gets me very very excited (can you tell?).

You want to pick a time when the Packers defense went from a unit on the ascent to a unit of maddening inconsistency? How about the loss of Nick Collins? It's time to add a QB/tone-setter to the Packers defense. I'm convinced Matt Elam can be that guy.

cow42's picture

i agree 100%

Jake's picture

Please please please please I want this pick so badly!

CSS's picture

Bob Sanders had hips like a cover-corner in coverage. He flipped em' quick and tracked. I have not watched Thomas play a single snap, only watched him go through the combine drills. He looked like a tank trying to redirect in the back-peddle drills and his hips were really, really stiff. Depends on how a team wants to employ them, I guess...

You can't deny the raw numbers, but both these guys looked stiff in coverage. Will be interesting to see when they come off the board.

Jeremy's picture

Fluid hips are an important part of what makes Casey Hayward so good. I don't think you can coach it. However at safety fluid hips is not as important as covering ground and taking good angles. It took Collins and Sharper both three years to learn it at the pro level. If they can read,run to the play and disrupt it physically, I don't think 5'9" vs 5'11 matters.

CSS's picture

Both are projected at Strong Safety, from what I've seen. Perhaps I'm wrong, but the Packers defense asks the Strong Safety to spend more time in coverage while the Free Safety is playing 'center field' or portions of the field for most of the alignments. I still expect the Packers to play a lot of nickle and dime coverage. Should you project those two at Strong Safety, and that's where they're being projected, they need cover skills. Reading some of the scouting reports both guys sound great in the box but are really shaky in too much space.

Again, I can't speak comfortably on either kid, I haven't seen them play full games. Highlight videos on the internet are worthless, they show highlights.

cow42's picture

no way collins was 6'.
what's the big deal here?

Rocky70's picture

There is no big deal. Only people 'out of the loop' believe that TT drafts players above a certain height.

Consider this: TT has NEVER drafted a player with six toes on one foot. That's the truth.

CSS's picture

Nick Collins played free safety.

CSS's picture

Would be fun to blind two post-combine scouting reports if I didn't tell you the level of competition they played against.

Here was McMillian (SS):

http://m.nfl.com/combine/profile/2532908/jeron-mcmillian/

Here is Elam (SS):

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1737092/matt-elam

Even the listed strengths and weaknesses are almost identical with McMillian being a bit bigger and testing a bit ahead of Elam in all categories.

Stroh's picture

Elams good but much rather have Vaccaro Reid or Phillip Thomas before him.

ted, of bill and ted's picture

i havn't done much research into elam yet, but i will say that if i'm going to take a safety like thomas who is more likely to be playing in the box as opposed to playing in coverage, i would probably take a big guy like t.j. mcdonald from usc who could handle the beating

Stroh's picture

We already have a guy thats really good in the box. THats McMillans at his best. Problem is he's not good in coverage and Jennings is the opposite. We need a safety that is great at both. I like Vaccaro, Reid and P. Thomas the most, Elam after them... Haven't looked at the Thomas in the article at all.

ted, of bill and ted's picture

yeah i was just speaking hypothetically, 'if' we needed a guy to play in the box...but i agree, mcmillian is already that. i personally like d.j. swearinger from usc, though i'd like to see more film on cyprien and i havn't even watched any of vaccaro yet

Cole's picture

Elam is a fuckin beast! Would love to see him in G&G. Love Phillip Thomas too. Vaccaro will prob be gone by 26.

madtork's picture

McDonald looked like Bambi in the drills, where do you play him? Elam looks the part, but I can see him getting exposed against the big TEs. It's great to have missiles but if they just bounce off what have you gained?

Tundraboy's picture

I have been saying OL first, LB and then Safety but must admit a hard hitting safety would have the most impact on team, Seems to me like Elam is that guy so I hope and pray that is who we pick and then everything else.
Stats and specs are one thing but being a football player who seeks hits and tackles should always be FIRST. What differnce does 1 inch mean if you do not have that?

Same with "versatilty' when talking about an OLine man. Puleez Pack do not waste a pick on Mr Versatile Barrett Jones, if that is what you are after its just dumb. Pick based on what matters most aside from obvious physical abiltytalent and desire to play the game hard. 1 inch, 10 lbs and that stuff is splitting hairs!!!

Travis Cleavenger's picture

Hey guys,

Havent posted in a while but I thought I'd give a little information about Thomas. Im a huge Syracuse fan and a big fan of Thomas but not for the Packers. His game is playing in the box and delivering big hits. I just feel like we already have that type of safety on our team (McMillian). Thomas does not have any ball skills (2 career interceptions in 48 career games), and is somewhat of a liability in coverage (this will be very evident in todays NFL). He also has a history of Concussions, and that is obviously taken very serious. Like I said, Im a huge fan of his, but I wouldn't advocate for him to be on the Packers. I think our biggest need at safety is a ballhawking safety. I'll be honest, I really want Reid from LSU, I think he would be an absolute steal if we could somehow get him in the second round.

imfubared's picture

Wow. I hate 5'11 db's. Why. Pro QB's are pro's because they can throw over the heads of these guys that their college QB's were not adept at.
I'll take a 6'1 bone crushing tackler any day over the 5'11 and under guy.

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