As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas from April 28-30, we’re taking a look at some of the players the team could be targeting with their 12 draft picks: Round 1 (29 and 30), Round 2 (50 and 62), Round 3 (94 and 103), Round 4 (121 and 135) and Round 7 (233, 243, 251 and 259).
If Kansas City selects a cornerback in the first two days of the draft, it will be unprecedented in the tenure of general manager Brett Veach. It will literally be the first time he’s picked a cornerback so early.
But that will be a strong consideration because of the current depth chart. L’Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton (on the last year of his rookie deal) headline the group, along with Deandre Baker, DiCaprio Bootle and potential practice-squad signings Luq Barcoo and Brandin Dandridge providing depth.
The Chiefs have been rumored to be in the mix for signing or trading for a cornerback — but either way, they especially need to acquire players who can play on the perimeter.
Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam fits that profile. He’s projected to be selected either late on Day 1 or in the second round. Let’s take a look at what he brings to the table.
Elam signed with Florida as a four-star prospect, ranked as the country’s 48th overall recruit. He has an NFL pedigree: his father Abram and his uncle Matt both played in the league.
Elam played all three seasons he attended Florida, totaling 78 tackles, 20 passes defended and five interceptions over 30 career games. Throughout his college career, he allowed a 55.6 passer rating when targeted; receivers caught only 45.5% of their targets while he was covering them. As a true sophomore in 2020, he earned Coaches’ All-SEC First Team honors.
At the NFL Combine, Elam measured in at 6 feet 2 and 191 pounds, with a 64th-percentile wingspan for cornerbacks. He was 30th percentile in arm length and 25th percentile in hand size. His 4.39-second 40-yard dash was in the 83rd percentile.
Throughout his three years at Florida, Elam was primarily aligned as an outside cornerback. He did, however, spend 8% of his snaps in the slot — and 10% lined up as a box defender.
Florida’s defense frequently asked Elam to play in a press alignment. He did so against some of the best wide receivers in college football, including Alabama’s Jameson Williams and John Metchie.
Florida CB Kaiir Elam has the size profile (6'1.5" / 191 lb / 64th percentile wingspan) to play outside CB for the #Chiefs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 2, 2022
Playing soft press man on Jameson Williams, active hands disrupt timing of route break legally, then he gets into Williams' hands at the catch point pic.twitter.com/rwzCppoEAd
When playing press, Elam’s build allows him to be in an advantageous position. He has enough mass that he can’t be pushed around — but not so much that he can’t keep up with quick feet on well-executed route releases. He is patient in press, avoiding being over-aggressive or sloppy with his hands until it’s needed.
Elam is especially comfortable in press because of his recovery speed (4.39s 40 at the combine)— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 2, 2022
Whether that helps him stay on top of an outside vert and squeeze to the sideline (1st clip) or keep up with a deep post (2nd clip), Elam's speed boosts his stock as a prospect pic.twitter.com/ieWRhionQQ
He may feel more comfortable playing patient at the line of scrimmage because he trusts his long speed. The 4.39-second 40-yard dash result shows up in his play; he can stay on top of fast receivers trying to get vertical — but also catch up in situations where he finds himself trailing.
You also see instinctual playmaking at the catch point, where his experience as a high school wide receiver comes through.
Kaiir Elam played some WR in high school, and it shows up in how instinctual he is at the catch point.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 3, 2022
Even when he's just going for a PBU, he looks to have good timing on the attack pic.twitter.com/jOzHzLS8kW
On this pass breakup, Elam shows great timing on his attack at the catch point — and it’s not simply about getting to the receiver quickly. It’s about how he times the attack of his hands, cleanly going over the receiver’s back without running into him — making it easier for the referee to throw a flag.
Elam also fills the pre-requisite of willingness to defend the edge on outside runs, and be an occasional blitzer like the #Chiefs will do with their CBs on some run downs pic.twitter.com/qVF3rnqZet— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 2, 2022
Even when the ball isn’t being thrown, Elam can still be an asset, maximizing his physique by filling the edge of the defense against outside runs — and by being a strong, sure tackler. His speed and acceleration also allow him to help as a blitzer.
How he fits with the Chiefs
If Elam is selected by the Chiefs, he projects to immediately start as an outside cornerback — especially in three-cornerback sets where Sneed moves into the slot. But Elam has the talent to push Fenton as the depth chart’s second corner.
Kaiir Elam has allowed a 55.6 passer rating in his coverage since 2019— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 2, 2022
Lowest among P5 CBs pic.twitter.com/CD41Yf8snB
In college, Elam was a shutdown cornerback, producing well in a conference that in recent seasons has consistently sent wide receivers to the NFL. He has the physical abilities to hold up immediately — and also improve Kansas City’s cornerback group. He should be more of an asset than Mike Hughes was in 2021.
Over the long term, Elam projects not only as a capable starter, but a player with enough ceiling to be worthy of a second contract.
The bottom line
Elam is one of a handful of cornerbacks who should be available near the Chiefs’ first two picks at 29 and 30. Whether it’s appropriate to trade up or trade down, he’d have to be picked early — and I believe his impact would be worth the cost.
We have not seen the Chiefs address cornerback that highly since they drafted Marcus Peters in 2015’s first round — and that pick wasn’t made by general manager Brett Veach.
If Veach is to buck that trend, I believe Elam would make that decision worth it.