Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at S Matt Elam.
65 tackles, 4 INTs, 5 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble
Role in 2012: Elam turned in an All-SEC performance in his second full season as a starter. He was the best player in a secondary filled with several players with all-conference potential.
The good: Elam’s versatility is his biggest asset. He played as a single high safety as well as a nickel back. He has good enough coverage skills to play man against slot receivers and yet is physical enough to handle tight ends. Elam made one of the biggest plays of the season when he chased down LSU WR Odell Beckham and caused him to fumble in the Gators’ 14-6 victory. He also was very good in run support and is a sure tackler. His 49 solo stops led the team.
The bad: There’s not much, but Elam did miss a few tackles because of his tackling fundamentals. It nearly cost the Gators a touchdown against Jacksonville State. Had he just wrapped up WR Kevyn Cooper instead of hitting him with his shoulder, Cooper would have had a 6-yard gain. Instead, Cooper went 76 yards before finally being pulled down. Elam is sometimes more concerned with making a big hit than making a sure tackle.
Crystal ball: Elam is considered a borderline first-round draft pick, so it’s likely that the 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior is going to forgo his senior season. The coaching staff was expecting that to happen before the 2012 season even began, so it’ll be a surprise if Elam doesn’t leave early. He really has nothing left to prove and isn’t going to get any bigger, so the right move would be to not return.