Combine Profile: Jalen Elliott, Safety
Notre Dame has nine former players set to attend the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, which begins next week. It is an opportunity for each player to improve his draft stock. Before it begins, Irish Breakdown will profile each former Irish player and discuss what’s at stake for him at the combine.
Hometown/High School: Chesterfield, Va./Lloyd C. Bird
2019 Stats: 49 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 break ups
Career Stats: 172 tackles, 6 interceptions, 11 break ups
Overview: Elliott was predominantly a quarterback at LC Bird, leading the Skyhawks to a 25-3 record in his final two seasons, which included a state championship in 2014. He played very little defense in high school, but his body type and athletic skills fit quite well on the back end of the defense.
Elliott registered 13 tackles as a freshman as a special teams and rotation player at safety, but he stepped into the starting lineup as a true sophomore in 2017. There were some bright spots, but Elliott went through a number of rough moments. It was obvious he was still learning the position, and things like pre-snap positioning, route recognition and using his leverage were issues. Elliott was often in very close position to making plays, but he just couldn’t finish.
During his junior season Elliott looked far more comfortable, and many of those snaps where he was almost in position to make a play turned into him actually making plays. He combined with Alohi Gilman to form one of the best safety tandems in the nation. After the entire safety depth chart combined for just five passes defensed (no interceptions) in 2017, Elliott had 11 (four interceptions, seven break ups) passes defensed by himself in 2018.
What you saw in 2018 was a player that showed a greater natural feel for playing defense. He did a much better job taking good angles in coverage, his anticipation was much better and his increased comfort level allowed his athleticism to show much better. You saw more speed, you saw closing ability, you saw more functional strength and you saw a player with better change of direction than he previously showed.
Elliott’s game took a bit of a step back this past season as he was asked to play a different role than he did in 2019. He was asked to play the post more as a senior, and he had to cover a lot more ground. In the run game he was often out of control and his angles to the ball carrier were inconsistent, which made him prone to missed tackles in space.
In coverage, Elliott didn’t show the same trust in his technique that he did in 2018. He was often too flat footed while allowing wideouts or tight ends to eat up his cushion, which often left him off balance when he had to open and run. The result from that was Elliott either getting beat, or he would get unnecessarily grabby out of breaks. He appeared to revert back to his 2017 woes early in the season. Elliott cleaned up his game late in the year and finished much better than he started the season.
At the Reese’s Senior Bowl, Elliott got back to being the player he was in 2018 from a coverage standpoint. His technique was better, he wasn’t guessing as much and he was voted by the offensive players for the North team as the best defensive back during the practices.
Elliott was considered one of the top players at the Senior Bowl, and analysts in attendance felt he made himself money from that performance.
What’s At Stake: Elliott needs to build on his Senior Bowl performance during the on-field portion of the combine. There won’t be any one-on-ones at the combine, so it’s all about testing well and the athleticism he shows during individual drills.
Reading through different analyses of Elliott’s athletic tools, there seem to be concerns about his speed and explosiveness. Here’s one particular criticism from The Draft Network:
“Though he experienced, Elliott lacks the athleticism in both speed and strength to consistently make a difference.”
If Elliott runs in the low 4.5s it will be a positive for him, and it would keep his speed - or perceived lack thereof - from being a big negative in his scouting report. If he can get under a 4.5 then his athleticism grade will receive a major boost.
There are other drills that will be important for Elliott to test well in. The explosiveness tests (vertical jump, broad jump) will be important, but the change of direction drills (pro shuttle, 3-cone drill) are just as important as his 40-yard dash times. If Elliott tests well in the quickness/agility tests then it makes it much easier to be convinced that his moments of struggle in coverage were technical issues and not athletic issues.
There will be a number of drills following the testing portion that will allow teams to see if the athletic testing can be translated into functional football movements. This will be another area where Elliott could boost his stock if he performs well.
All of this is important because technical issues can be corrected, while a lack of speed, explosiveness and quickness is going to always be an issue once a player gets into the NFL. We saw this last season when a subpar performance at the combine and pro day by All-American cornerback Julian Love resulted in him falling to the fourth round while a dominant combine performance from Miles Boykin saw him jump into the third round of the draft.
There is no debate that Love had a higher draft ranking going into the combine based on having a far, far more productive college career. That’s how much the combine can change fortunes for prospects.