New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore won the NFL Defensive Rookie of Year as the 11th overall selection in the 2017 draft out of Ohio State. Since his standout rookie campaign, Lattimore has made three Pro Bowls and established himself as one of the NFL's best defensive backs.
Free safety Marcus Williams was added alongside Lattimore in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson turned out to be a draft steal with a 4th round pick in 2019. These three made up one of the league's better secondaries in 2020. However, the Saints released veteran CB Janoris Jenkins in a salary cap move, and 13-year veteran S Malcolm Jenkins turns 34 in December.
Defensive back is perhaps the biggest need for New Orleans as they head towards the draft, particularly the cornerback spot. Luckily for the Saints, cornerback appears to be a deep position in this year's draft class. Today's draft profile spotlights a potential starter that will not hear his name called in Round 1, but will come off the board on the second day and has the versatile talents to be a draft steal. His name will also be familiar to longtime New Orleans fans.
ELIJAH MOLDEN, CORNERBACK (WASHINGTON)
Pro Day 40m = 4.51
NFL.com Comparison (Lance Zierlein):
Tyrann Mathieu (Chiefs)
After starring at West Linn High School in Oregon, Molden took his talents north to attend PAC-12 power Washington. He played sparingly on defense as a freshman, breaking up two passes and recording half a sack while contributing on special teams. He’d not only break into the starting lineup as a sophomore but also earned All-conference recognition as a special teams player.
Molden blossomed during his junior year of 2019, earning 1st team All-PAC12 honors. He led his team with 79 tackles, a rare feat for a cornerback. Molden also topped the Huskies with 4 interceptions 13 passes broken up, and 3 forced fumbles while adding 5.5 tackles for loss. A COVID-19 pandemic shortened Washington's season to just four games in 2020, but Molden again earned All-conference accolades.
Critics of Molden will point to the fact that he’s a little small for a traditional safety, and that his height and lack of elite speed limit him as a corner. The lack of recovery speed has been problematic when he’s been beaten in man coverage. Although combative, bigger receivers create issues for Molden on contested throws. His aggressive nature has made him vulnerable to play-action fakes.
Molden's greatest attributes are his instincts and versatility. He has elite play recognition with outstanding read-and-react ability. Molden may best be physically suited for a slot coverage role, but also has the fluid change of direction and natural coverage skills to stay with most wideouts from the outside.
An excellent tackler, Molden was one of college footballs best corners in run support. He has lightening fast reaction to plays from the safety spot or when in off-ball coverage. Shows excellent technique in the open field, taking the proper angles and rarely allowing extra yardage.
Molden may not possess outstanding straight-line speed, but he has terrific agility. That agility, combined with his natural instincts and anticipation, allow him to mirror the quickest receivers. He drives on the ball quickly with his combination of sticky man coverage and ability to read opposing quarterbacks.
Elijah Molden's father, Alex Molden, was the 11th overall selection in the 1996 draft from PAC-10 power Oregon by the New Orleans Saints. Alex had 12 interceptions and broke up 29 passes over an eight-year NFL career. Son Elijah may not hear his name called in the 1st round of the draft like his father, but he has the rare instincts and valuable versatility to forge a successful NFL career.