He was primarily a reserve defensive back in his first season with the team, though he did start on special teams (kickoff coverage, return) and finished his true freshman campaign with 22 tackles, including two for loss.
Elam emerged as a standout once given the opportunity to start last season. He finished the year second on the team in total tackles (78) and led the club in tackles for loss (11), pass breakups (seven) and forced fumbles (two). He also intercepted two passes, including one against Tennessee's Tyler Bray.
While perhaps a bit smaller than scouts would prefer (5-10, 202 pounds), Elam has proven himself to be a playmaker throughout his career, demonstrating not only instincts, athleticism and physicality, but ball-hawking skills (six interceptions) and timing.
The two-year starter was at his best under the brightest of lights, making game-changing plays against Florida State, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee, and pacing the Gators with 11 tackles, including a sack, in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville.
Drops down to cover slot receivers, getting a strong initial jam on them and riding them throughout the first few yards aggressively. Shows good vision and anticipation when fighting through blocks near the line of scrimmage and is generally a reliable, physical tackler. He brings his hips as a hitter, showing the closing speed and raw power to generate explosiveness.
Shows savvy to complement his physical talents, using his hands to knock away passes at the last moment and avoiding blocks with patience and vision rather than simply attempting to out-physical his opponents at every opportunity. High-effort player who seems to love the game. Quality special teams performer. Voted a team captain in 2012.
Weaknesses: Lacks preferred size for the position. Too often loses out on 50-50 balls, being forced to attempt to rip away at the hands of the receiver as he attempts to come down with the catch. Highly aggressive downhill tackler who can come in too hot and lose control, leaving cut-back lanes.
Tends to lead with his shoulder and will leave his feet to make the lights-out hit, resulting in some ugly lunges and misses. Good, not great lateral agility and can get left grasping at air. The same good, not great lateral agility shows up in coverage where Elam can lose positioning against slot receivers, though he does have a nice burst to close quickly.
Has twice had run-ins with police regarding minor in possession offenses involving alcohol (July 2010, July 2011).
Compares To: Charles Godfrey, SS, Carolina Panthers -- Godfrey, a former cornerback at Iowa, has emerged as a rock-solid safety for the Panthers and one known for his physical play. Elam has a similar frame, game and mind-set. He has a knack of making big plays at critical moments and therefore could ultimately earn some Troy Polamalu comparisons, but he'll need to clean up his open-field tackling skills to earn that kind of lofty praise.