Should Matt Elam Start at Free Safety for the Baltimore Ravens?

By jeffreykryglik
Evan Habeeb- USA Today Sports

This is an article about Baltimore Ravens safety and 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam.

Why would I start off with such a bland lede you might ask? Maybe because he made virtually no impact in his first game with his newest organization.

Yes, I understand that his natural position is strong safety and veteran James Ihedigbo earned the right to call himself the starter at that spot, but I was expecting to see a little more of the former Florida Gator, considering the Ravens were largely playing in the Nickel and Dime packages all night long in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos.

Seeing little to no Elam in Game 1 left me puzzled ,as he was a guy coming out of college being praised for his versatility to play multiple positions on the defensive side of the football. The 21-year-old rookie began his career at the University of Florida as a cornerback, but when his physical nature began to show through, the 2012 First-Team All-American made the move to the back end of the defense at safety.

At 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, Elam doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional NFL safety, but his heart and ability to play like a linebacker physically and run like a corner turned the heads of scouts back in February at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

The Ravens were also considered to be deep at the two safety spots, given that they drafted Elam to potentially become a starter but compete with Ihedigbo and starting free safety Michael Huff.

While neither one of these guys truly had great games in Week 1, Huff was historically bad, and it makes you wonder if he happens to be a former first-rounder who happened to be released by the Oakland Raiders. He sure looked like it against Denver and he will have to improve going forward. The 30 year old looked lost in defensive coordinator Dean Pees‘ scheme, and for a guy who has garnered similar recommendations that Elam has for his versatility to play multiple positions and superb athleticism, neither one showed through in his first outing in a Ravens uniform. He was dismal and couldn’t tackle a child if they were wearing bright orange and dark blue.

Some have to wonder if the former Texas Longhorn‘s days are numbered at the free safety spot after just one week, but I’m here to say that may not be slightly far fetched.

Yes, Huff had a bad game, and the eight-year veteran needs to be able to put forth a better effort or else the fan base will riot. After all, they still have fond memories of Ed Reed roaming the secondary and taking it to the house for pick-six interceptions. Huff will never be that kind of player, but neither will Elam, and clearly, if he wasn’t starting at the end of training camp, something is wrong that we don’t know about.

Head coach John Harbaugh is a coach who focuses on schemes and emphasizes that the best players will always see the field. It’s hard to doubt a coach who has never missed the playoffs and most recently won a Super Bowl, but he may be a little off on this one. Even though it’s just one game, Huff looked lost all night long, and against a team he’s faced 14 times in his career as a former member of the AFC West.

Elam may not be up to par with the defensive alignments and assignments just yet, but there’s no chance Huff is significantly, head over heels better than Elam. Up to this point of his career, it seems as if Huff has been a failed first-rounder and is in the October of his career. If you want to debut the young gun in a big way, even though it isn’t his natural position, what better team to do it against than the Cleveland Browns, who are winless (0-10) against the Ravens in the John Harbaugh era and have Brandon Weeden calling the shots at quarterback with virtually no weapons on offense?

I rest my case.

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