While I appreciate the incredible American interest in the NFL Draft as a
media-created phenomenon meant to sustain a massive cottage industry genuine extension of the interest in the NFL, I can't do the traditional NFL Draft profile for Florida players. I just can't: It feels too much like analyzing something that has already been analyzed to death, and I'm not sure I can add anything that someone else hasn't already seen and explained from that angle.
Instead, for Sharrif Floyd on down to Xavier Nixon, I'll be profiling players over the next three days in terms of what Florida fans know about them that the next batch of fans lucky enough to get to cheer for them should know.
Matt Elam is going to get two posts, eventually, but I'll start with a couple of notes about him.
The first two Florida players taken in the 2013 NFL Draft didn't get to share their greatest professional triumphs with their biological fathers. The man Sharrif Floyd knew as his biological father for most of his life wasn't; his real biological father died long before he learned the second fact. Matt Elam's father, however, died just under 18 months ago, and just days after one of the most frustrating losses of Elam's career. (Elam had also previously lost a brother and a sister to murder.)
That loss came to Florida State on a night when Florida's defense did almost everything right and its offense did nothing of the sort. Elam, a member of the Class of 2010 who had committed to Florida State for about a month while Urban Meyer decided whether or not he wanted football in his life, made one of the defining plays of his career in that game, throwing down Jermaine Thomas and drawing a flag and the ire of FSU's Greg Reid.
For those who thought Elam was a head-hunting hothead, that was the dirtiest play in a career that would be nothing more or less than dirty. For Elam, it was one of his last truly transgressive acts.
That story about Elam refocusing after the loss of his father played out in 2012, as Elam became disruptive and disciplined. He missed maybe five tackles in 13 games, and regularly made a key stop early in a game that set the tone for the rest of the Gators defense. His no-look break-up of a corner route against Texas A&M helped keep Florida from falling into a deep hole in College Station; while his "Go to sleep" gesture got more play, Elam's strip of Odell Beckham against LSU essentially won that game for Florida; his interception against Florida State stopped the Seminoles' momentum in Tallahassee.
Elam was the heart and soul of the Florida defense, which would have been unfathomably different without him, and was the most versatile player on the field despite often being the shortest player on the field. I loved watching him play football more than any Florida defender since Reggie Nelson ... and Nelson is No. 1 on my all-time list of Gators defenders, so Elam's probably solidly No. 2.
But the one story that I never saw told anywhere was about Elam's slightly unhinged joy for the game. Florida's Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville was not his or the defense's finest moment, given that it was a loss, but Elam was flying around the field all night, and definitely got away with blasting one defenseless receiver as a make-up no-call. It wasn't until Louisville punted, though, that Elam (and Dominique Easley) pulled out the best trick of the evening: As the Cardinals were getting set, Elam and Easley went prone on the line, looking for all the world like commandos lying in the grass, before getting up for the play.
This wasn't captured on the TV broadcast (I've looked, trust me), and wasn't mentioned in any media reports that I saw, but it was a little thing that won me over forever. Matt Elam's a really good football player who loves hitting very much, and does what he does to honor his family and provide a role model to kids who want opportunities like his. But, at heart, iSwea he's a goofy kid who loves playing the game more than anything else in the world, and that's a great thing to watch.