There is life-changing money on the line for Florida Gators cornerback Kaiir Elam following his junior season, as he's widely expected to enter the 2022 NFL Draft and be selected in the first round, potentially even in the top ten picks.
Players in situations similar to Elam are often forced to consider a business decision: To finish the season with their team, or focus their attention on the draft by opting out and maintaining their health.
We've seen a spike in players making the latter choice recently, including Florida's own Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney a year ago, who skipped the Cotton Bowl after the Gators lost to Alabama in the 2020 SEC Championship. 2021 first-round picks Miami's Greg Rousseau and Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley both opted out of the 2020 season to prevent contracting COVID-19 and prepare for the draft, among numerous others.
But Elam isn't worried about his draft stock right now. He's looking forward to facing the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs this week and putting together a strong end to his Gators career.
"I'm not really focused on the business decision right now," Elam said on Tuesday. "I’m focused on helping this team win.”
Elam admitted that there have been people in his ear suggesting otherwise, and it makes sense why. Florida has fallen out of contention in the SEC East with a 4-3 record, leaving Elam and the Gators on the outside-looking-in on the upcoming postseason.
In addition, the Preseason All-American cornerback was sidelined for three games earlier in the season with a sprained knee, which isn't something he'd want to aggravate ahead of next April's draft. Elam claims to feel much better physically now and returned to action against LSU in Week 7, but he continues to spend time with Florida's training staff to monitor his knee.
The latter point was made to Elam by reporters during Tuesday night's media availability. Elam acknowledged the logic behind the question but stood firm on his answer: He intends to give the Gators his all throughout the remainder of the season.
“I feel you. But I’m a Gator. I bleed orange and blue. Any time I'm on that field or I'm in practice, I'm going to go my hardest to help us win a game, honestly," Elam said. "I’m not thinking about the future. I'm thinking about, like, every single practice leading up to Georgia right now and I'm focused on just winning this game, winning the next one and winning the next one after that. We have, what, five games left in the regular season?
"I mean, obviously people are trying to like, sway me to think about that, but like right now, I feel like if I lose focus right now, that'd be—that'll hurt myself. And not only myself and my team. So I appreciate it though and I hear what you're saying. But right now, I'm just trying to bleed orange and blue man. Just help us go win."
Across four games this season, Elam has recorded 12 tackles, an interception, and three defended passes, allowing only 53.8 percent of his targets in coverage to be caught according to Pro Football Focus. Since earning a starting role in Florida's defense as a freshman in 2019, Elam has tallied 61 tackles, five interceptions, 18 defended passes, a fumble recovery, and a completion percentage allowed of 44.4 percent.
If he elects to forgo his senior season, Elam has the makings of a sure-fire first-round cornerback. And perhaps he will, but for now, Elam has no plans to hang his orange and blue cleats up earlier than he needs to.
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