Time for a Tuneup
Whether by intentional strategy or just circumstance, the Rams have neglected the cornerback position in the draft in recent years.
In 2015, with Jenkins and Johnson a year away from FA, I thought that CB needed to be a top priority for the Rams in the draft. Instead, the Rams went in a different direction, taking Todd Gurley in the 1st round.
The Rams drafted zero CBs in 2015.
The Rams drafted zero CBs in 2016.
The Rams drafted zero CBs in 2017.
The Rams drafted zero CBs in 2018.
In 2019, the Rams drafted David Long in the 3rd round.
The Rams drafted zero CBs in 2020.
The only CB the Rams have drafted in the last 6 drafts has played mostly special teams so far. Instead of acquiring CBs through the draft, the Rams traded for veteran CBs and were able to find CBs from UDFA types such as Troy Hill and Darious Williams.
I don't think it is a sustainable strategy to completely stop drafting CBs in the draft. Trading for and paying Jalen Ramsey required a large investment in both draft picks and salary cap space. How often can you expect UDFAs to develop into good CB? These days, a team needs multiple good CBs to have a solid defense. At some point, don't the Rams need to resume drafting CBs?
One CB projected to go around the 2nd round slot held by the Rams is Washington's slot CB, Elijah Molden. The first game I watched on Molden, I didn't like him as a prospect. He was small and weak and didn't look like a good player. After watching more games, I warmed up a little to him. It takes a bigger volume of plays to see more clearly how what he does causes problems for the opponent.
To give you a sense of his playmaking ability, consider the 2019 game Molden played against BYU and Zach Wilson. This game happened one week before Wilson broke his thumb, so he was facing the best 2019 version of Wilson. Molden was so active that if he had just been a bit more lucky with bounces, he potentially could have had 5 INTs off of Zach Wilson in only 3 quarters of play. On top of that, he caused a coverage sack on Wilson, there was another play where as a zone defender he nearly baited Wilson into an INT, another play where in man coverage he undercut a post route and was hunting for an INT, and multiple other plays where he suffocated Wilson's primary read on deep corner and fade routes. That day, Molden was a one man wrecking crew against the potential number 2 overall pick in the draft.
Lance Zierlein's comp for Molden is Tyrann Mathieu. Sports Illustrated also likes this comp, saying that Molden has the potential to become the next Honey Badger. I don't think Molden is the same type of player as Mathieu. His is disruptive, but in a different fashion. My comp for Molden is Tavon Young. Jalen Ramsey was the 5th overall pick in the 2016 draft. Young was a 4th round pick that year. As rookies, Young was a higher graded CB than Ramsey. Young's PFF grade was nearly 4 points higher than Ramsey's grade.
LZ gives Molden a 6.33 draft grade, which is better than the grades for Taylor Rapp (6.30), Terrell Burgess (6.28) and David Long (6.20). Would Molden instantly as a rookie be one of the best DBs on the Rams roster? Could he elevate the Rams defense to a "No Fly Zone" level?
Listed at 5'10'' tall, 190 pounds.
True Senior. 22 years old.
His dad is Alex Molden, a former NFL CB, who was the 11th overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft. If Elijah tests as expected at his pro day, he would be almost a spitting image of his father. Virtually exactly the same in size, scores and skills.
In 2000, Alex Molden was on the Saints team that beat the Rams in a Wild Card game. It was the first ever playoff victory for the Saints. Until Drew Brees arrived, it was the only playoff win for the Saints and one of the few winning seasons they had to that point in the history of the franchise. Molden spent 5 years with the Saints.
Elijah is the 2nd oldest of 8 kids in his family. 4 star recruit. Was CB and RB in HS. In HS, ran 4.51 sec in the 40, 37'' vertical jump and 3.93 sec shuttle time.
Special teams in 2017, was special teams ace in 2018.
Led team in tackles in 2019 (12 more than the 2nd place guy), an odd stat for a CB. He had as many PDs as the next 4 defenders combined. He led the team in both INTs and FFs.
Could have opted out, but played in 2020. UW only played 4 games.
2019 (13 games): 79 tackles (49 solo), 5.5 TFL, 4 INT, 17 PD, 3 FF.
2019 and 2020 combined (17 games): 105 tkl (70 solo), 6.5 TFL, 5 INT, 19 PD, 3 FF. Pretty crazy numbers for just over one NFL regular season worth of games.
Finalist for Campbell Trophy.
Despite his gaudy numbers, Molden wasn't pleased with his junior season in 2019. He said he cringed watching his tape that year and improved his level of play in 2020. Statistically gave up some big plays in 2019 in man coverage, but surrendered a very low QB rating while in zone coverage. In 2020, had opposing QB rating of only 28.1.
UW played mostly a pattern matching cover 3 defense in a 4-2-5 base package. In 2020, Molden spent quite a bit of time at the safety position, then sometimes would slide down to nickel CB, typically on 3rd downs.
Molden was also responsible for making the defensive calls on the field, an odd role for a nickel CB. He says that he's a big fan of Tyrann Mathieu and studies his tape.
In interviews, Molden comes across as having an easy going personality, grounded, a grinder who works hard and stays focused.
Lance Zierlein says he has legendary football character, good instincts, makes impressive pre-snap play diagnoses, is a reliable tackler, patient, plants and drives well and can attack downhill. He doesn't like that Molden is short, has average agility and limited speed.
PFN says that Molden has rare instincts, good ball skills, but he lacks length.
Sports Illustrated called Molden the best run supporting CB in the draft and said he had elite instincts. They rank him as the 3rd best slot CB in the draft, with an early 3rd round grade.
Did not participate in the Senior Bowl, reportedly due to a minor injury.
I'm not aware of any major injuries in college, but he had multiple injuries in high school. Was bothered by an ankle injury in 2015. Fractured his skull in a 7 on 7 tournament in February of 2015. Had multiple possible concussions in 2014 and 2015.
The head injuries are what concern me the most, because the way he tackles (he tends to drop his helmet down) could make him vulnerable for getting concussions.
ESPN 52nd overall
CBSSports 57th overall
PFF 49th overall
PFN (Tony Pauline) 75th overall
PFN mock draft 67th overall pick
Chad Reuter mock draft 59th overall pick
Pro day scheduled for March 30.
Dangerous Menace in Coverage
Might have wheels instead of feet, because he moves so quickly and smoothly in any direction, backwards, forwards, sideways, diagonally, it is like he's rolling around on a cart. Smooth pedal. Balanced, crouched stance. Excellent agility.
Pedals backwards to carry seam, then stops and prepares to drive forward on dig as he reads the QB's eyes, then as he sees QB go to next read, he pedals backwards again and gains depth.
Zone coverage, the WR behind him is running curl route. CB intelligently slides over and is in front of the route even though he can't see the WR. Subtle movements in zone to get depth or to the side squeezes the window on routes behind him, spooking the QB or baiting them into bad throws. QB thinks he has the TE on an over route in the middle of the field, but Molden is reading him and breaks on it. The ball barely goes over his fingertips.
In a small area, due to his instincts and burst, he can effectively cover 2 different players at times. In zone, he sits in the passing window underneath the TE's route, but simultaneously is anticipating the flare pass checkdown to the RB and drives on it when the QB throws it to the RB.
Patient in pedal. Super fast feet, but doesn't take unnecessary and wasted steps. Stutter step fake at LOS by the WR. Molden's feet don't move, he's not fooled at all. No lean, no false step, no lunge. He remains still and calm, then when the WR tries to release downfield, CB turns and runs with him.
Reroutes WR on slot fade, disrupting play. Sound technique in off man coverage. Smothered double move by WR from off man. Sticky, doesn't give up separation.
3rd&5, crucial play in game. He doesn't bite on WR's head fake, and is all over the slant route.
Clicks and closes to drive on routes and in run support. Immediately triggers and drives on curl, reading the QB, simultaneous with the break by the TE. Drives hard on stick route, reading the QB.
Turns and runs smoothly with WRs. Can dig and find gear to stay with them if he needs to run harder. Able to flip hips to recover and stay attacked to hip of WR even if he's momentarily put in trail position at LOS. Turns his head around and finds ball on deep fade route, nearly getting INT. Undercut skinny post.
Medium 3rd down. Stays in hip pocket of WR, then undercuts the route for an INT. His PDs are not cheap ones, he has some high degree of difficulty pass breakups. WR drives outside, then cuts inside on dig, CB stays with him, reaches around front and deflects pass away. Long 3rd down, against corner route, doesn't get fooled by fakes by WR, he's all over the WR and breaks up the pass, preventing the first down. WR runs post that turns into a dig, Molden stays with the nuance in the route and breaks up the pass.
Completely smothers short out routes. Weight properly balanced over feet so that he can immediately drive to match break by WR. Zach Wilson wants to throw it to his TE on an out route. Molden is glued to the TE, in his hip pocket. QB tries to spin out of poacket and extend, but as TE goes up sideline, Molden is still attached, not giving any room in scramble portion. QB gets sacked.
4th& 4. Molden is playing inside technique, all over curl route by WR. The pass by QB bounces off of the hip of the CB. Sits inside against TE on dig, jams up route and knocks pass away.
Annoying gnat. Molden is like an electron around the nucleus of an atom. He's never truly in just one spot in a fixed position. He's vibrating within an area, because he can move so quickly in any direction, making it difficult for the QB to judge whether the WR is open or the precise boundaries of the passing window.
High Football IQ
Diagnosis, play recognition, anticipation and reaction off the charts. Plays the way you'd expect for the son of a former NFL CB.
3rd down. The RB motions into the backfield to the right side of the QB. Molden is the slot CB to the left, in man coverage against a slant route by his WR. The RB fakes like he's blocking, then releases out to the left for a pass. The LB supposed to cover him gets caught out of position and can't chase him across the field, causing the RB to be open. Molden recognizes what is happening, comes off the WR as the QB's arm goes up to make the throws, drives on the RB's route and drags the RB down for no gain after the catch. That is a pretty incredible play. That's not his guy, but he saved a 1st down with his awareness.
Molden pretends he's in off coverage technique against TE. A split second before the snap, he jumps up to the LOS. When the TE tries to come off the line, CB jams him and this ambush attack catches the TE by surprise (maybe the QB as well.) The TE tries to run fade route against the smaller CB, but Molden reroutes him and TE has no chance at catching pass. I thought this was a really sweet play. Tricky with impeccable timing and execution.
Pin and pull toss run to the outside. As the slot CB, Molden immediately knows what is coming, races out to the edge and stuffs the TE's block, messing up the play and causing it to go for no gain.
He's covering the RB in the flat, but very quickly reacts to pass to open TE and makes the tackle. As safety, drives on post route. In zone, he's probably supposed to be wider, but he senses that pass might be coming to TE in middle of field and he hangs back just to side of TE, ready to pounce and try to jump the route, looking for an INT.
Near GL, he anticipates run going off tackle and runs all the way out wide from the LT to outside of the TEs wide of the RT and stuffs the RB for a TFL.
Nearly made spectacular one handed INT in end zone. TE tries to box him out at front of EZ, but CB able to jump around him, get his arm across the front and deflect the pass away.
Willing run supporter. Throws his body around, aggressively attacks when he sees play developing.
Beats WR block to win edge contain, then tackles RB.
Attacks downhill against run, redirects wide at speed when the RB bounces it outside and chops the RB down for a TFL.
Fast in short areas, shows speed and acceleration on both pass and run blitzes. Can redirect at speed once he gets into pocket to try to bring down QB or RB. Despite small size, has some value as surprise blitzer.
Plays faster than his timed speed due to his quick reactions, anticipation, acceleration, balance and fluidity.
Not effective jamming TEs and big WRs at the LOS. His jam can be swiped away or he gets pushed and shoved to side easily. Tried to jam WR on short 3rd down and the WR just shoved him to the ground, sending Molden rolling over. Missed jam at LOS and immediately was put in trail position. Tries to jam WR at top of route and the WR nearly shoves him to the ground. Not enough bulk, size and strength to stay on his feet.
Not enough length. Even when he reads play well, sometimes can't break up the pass, because he's too small and his arms aren't long enough. If the WR gets inside leverage on him, Molden generally isn't long enough to recover and challenge the throw.
Can get hansy and grabby just outside the 5 yard cushion from the LOS, which they won't let him get away with as much in the NFL. He's subtle about it and it is only a brief tug, but still technically illegal contact or holding at the NFL level.
Can be beaten by better route runners. He jumps all over slant route, but it is a whip route by the WR. When the WR breaks outside, Molden is fooled and gives up 2 yards of separation.
Weak tackler. Misses tackles. Many tackles he barely holds on to, weakly wrapping up RB. Missed tackle on WR when he ducked head forward and didn't break down properly. Made one tackle while falling backwards, catching the RB. Not reliable open field tackler.
Takes poor angles as tackler, some plays are terrible. Often too far to the inside on angle, doesn't widen enough. Helmet to kidney of RB as he tries to drag runner down instead of delivering a more solid hit. Dives and has WR spin out of his tackle due to poor approach angle. Whiffs on RB on cutback run as backside defender due to weak approach angle. Poor angle on WR, barely touches the WR as he misses tackle.
Opens the door for RB to stiff arm him or cut to the side to evade him when he takes weak tackling angle towards them.
Gives good effort on most runs, but he's too small and some plays he's not involved due to lack of aggressiveness. Spectator on some runs. Doesn't attack downhill enough or show great instincts against the run the further away he is from the LOS.
Next to useless in some run situations. Not nearly enough size or power to take on blockers or stop progress of RB in short yardage and GL situations. Unable to properly box OL blocks. Resorts to taking out legs of TE, because he can't reliably set the edge normally.
Unable to shed blocks. Gets swallowed up and engulfed by blockers. Even WR blocks, sometimes gets stuck on them and can't move.
Not reckless enough on run blitz. Needs to sell out and run through RB instead of trying to run to the RB. Critical 3rd down run late in 4th quarter and he doesn't gamble enough and attack downhill, he's too passive and stays back.
Bows down when trying to tackle, ducking the crown of his helmet forward and bending at the waist.
Gets knocked to ground on run plays when he's in slot, sometimes not strong and big enough to stay on his feet and hold his position.
Slot CB Only
Not position versatile. I don't think he can play any spot other than slot CB in the NFL. Not good at S, doesn't have size and length to play outside CB.
Unknown long speed to carry vertical routes. Most of the time he was on short and intermediate routes from the slot. Might not be fast enough to run with go routes and deep posts.
Pro Comparison and Grade
Tavon Young (4th round 2016 Ravens, Temple.) 3rd round grade.
Young was an outside CB at Temple. As a rookie with the Ravens, he played primarily outside CB and was better there than in the slot. After his strong 1st NFL season, Young tore his ACL in 2017. He then played primarily slot CB in 2018, but he played much of the year with a sports hernia and wasn't as effective compared to his rookie season. He had surgery after that year. In 2019 he had a neck injury. In 2020, he had another ACL injury.
Young has only had 2 healthy NFL seasons. In 2019, prior to Young's 4th season (see, the Rams aren't the only team that pays players early) the Ravens signed him to a 2nd contract that made him the highest paid nickel CB in the NFL. Since his lucrative deal was signed, Young has only played 38 defensive snaps for the Ravens. Good thing Young got his money, otherwise it could have turned out bad for him financially. For the team, locking him up early hasn't yet paid any dividends.
These days, NFL teams are increasingly using smaller and quicker WRs. A nickel CB has become a starting player. Troy Hill played almost every defensive snap for the Rams last season. The Rams could use both Terrell Burgess and David Long in the slot, but Molden is probably better in coverage than both of those players.
My gut says that someone like Creed Humphrey is going to get drafted early and won't be available at 57. NFL teams typically draft outside CBs first and wait on slot CBs, so I think it is much more likely that Molden will still be available towards the bottom of the 2nd round. Most draft boards have Molden ranked right in that late 2nd to very early 3rd round area where he could be one of the BPA at pick 57. At the very least, Elijah Molden is a name worth knowing and being on the list of potential draft targets by the Rams in the 2nd round.