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2021 NFL Draft profile: Washington CB Elijah Molden

A gamer with rare intangibles, Molden would be a great fit in a Fangio defense.

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Washington v Arizona
Should the Broncos draft Molden?
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

George Paton spent his first free agency doing what he could to make sure the Broncos cornerback situation is better than he found it. Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby to go with Bryce Callahan means Fangio will have the best trio of cornerbacks since he became head coach in 2019.

Questions remain.

Between the two of them, Darby and Callahan have played a complete regular season once since 2015. The depth chart behind them is littered with questions after Michael Ojemudia was benched during his rookie season while both Duke Dawson and Essang Bassey return from season ending knee injuries. Fuller and Callahan also see their contracts expire after the 2021 season and there’s no promise they’ll return.

With so much uncertainty around the group, it makes sense to invest draft capital into the cornerback room. Could Washington’s Elijah Molden make sense?

At a glance

During the 2020 season the Broncos utilized nickel or dime personnel on 75% of their snaps. Slot cornerback are starters in today’s NFL, and there isn’t a better one in this draft class than Elijah Molden. The son of the 11th overall pick of the 1996 draft, Molden is undersized and more quick than fast, but combines vey good reactive athleticism with the competitive toughness to project as a perfect fit in the Fangio defense.

Why he fits the Broncos

  • Started 19 of 44 games for Washington defense that mainly plays with five or six defensive backs on the field.
  • Voted team’s most inspirational player his senior season.
  • A finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy (aka the Academic Heisman).
  • Huskies staff raves about him, as do NFL scouts who have been through the school.
  • Experience sliding back to safety in situational looks.
  • Logged 479 special teams snaps during his collegiate career.
  • Tape over traits player who shows better play speed than the stopwatch suggests.
  • Elite mental processing with quick recognition skills to sniff out the opponents intentions. Plays the game with the kind of anticipation and vision you’d expect from the son of an NFL corner who grew up in the game.
  • Elite competitive toughness, he’s a player who will show up in critical moments and does his part to communicate across the defense.
  • Good play strength shows in his physicality, he punches above his weight.
  • Good in man coverage in the slot with the footwork, instincts, and short area agility to mirror and match his assignments.
  • Good ball skills with the physicality, feel, and instincts to get his mitts on the ball and disrupt or own the catch point.
  • Washington didn’t hesitate to ask him to press and he’s shown a good punch thanks to his placement and strength.
  • Good run defender who understands how to play to his help and doesn’t hesitate to meet a blocker or ball carrier. He’s slippery and tenacious.
  • Good in the open field with his ability to leverage the ball and take angles to help him arrive at the action.
  • He fights to bring you down and doesn’t hesitate to give a shot if he can.
  • In the right hands he’ll be a useful piece in pressure packages.

Reasons for concern

  • Short and small at 5’9 194 pounds.
  • Medical history includes multiple head injuries: skull fracture in 2015. Concussion-like symptoms in 2016.
  • Poor testing numbers that fail to account for the fact he skipped both lateral agility drills, a red flag when agents routinely pull clients from tests they’ll fail to impress in.
  • Pulled out of the 2021 Senior Bowl because of a rib injury.
  • May be a slot only due to his lack of long speed and size.
  • Top end speed merchants will cause issues because of their transitional quickness coming.
  • Length will be problematic against big slots with the ability to box out.
  • 29 1/2” arms will probably limit his effectiveness in press and if he’ll have trouble separating from blocks if he can’t win with his agility or savvy.
  • Willing tackler who’s missed his share due to length and overpursuit.
  • Adequate range and closing speed could limit his usefulness in deep coverage.

What I’ve seen / heard / read

“Elijah Molden is a highly instinctual, athletic cover corner who shows great run support for a smaller defensive back. He projects as a year one key contributor who has the potential to be a high-end nickel corner year two.”

-Expand the Box Score

“Molden projects as a starting slot corner at the next level where he can play a good mix of man and zone coverages. He doesn’t have the size or speed to play outside, but has enough quickness and reactive athleticism to defend the slot or even rotate back as a free safety. On 3rd downs, he fits best in the slot in man coverage. He could produce some on special teams due to play speed and toughness, but may be lmited some due to his size.”

-Nathan Cooper, Sports Info Solutions

I also spoke at length with Nathan Cooper of Sports Info Solutions.

“With his reactive athleticism, Molden quickly processes pass/run and stays coordinated in zone and man coverage to make plays on the ball. While scrappy and smart, you wish he were longer and faster to provide the versatility to play outside. Overall, Molden’s lack of ideal size, length and twitch will be a disadvantage at times vs. NFL skill players, but his instincts, competitive nature and read/react skills are tailor-made for a starting nickel role who shouldn’t leave the field (defense or special teams).“

-Dane Brugler

NFL draft: Elijah Molden is undersized but highly valuable

He’s not quite as athletic as Budda Baker or Bryce Callahan, not quite as versatile as Tyrann Mathieu and not yet a proven safety, a la Jimmie Ward, but Molden has traits of all three.

2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report: CB Elijah Molden | The Draft Network

Elijah Molden played cornerback for the Huskies defense and aligns mostly inside. Overall, he demonstrates the athleticism to be a highly effective coverage player from the nickel slot. He’s a little undersized by ideal NFL measurables, but would suffice as an NFL slot. He is a willing tackler in the run game, so there are no reservations there. In the passing game, he excels. He plays with rare level instincts which allows him to bait quarterbacks inside and make plays. He doesn’t have elite play speed for a smaller cornerback, but his instincts help to cover his deficiencies.

Elijah Molden Draft and Combine Prospect Profile | NFL.com

Evaluators will love his instincts, pedigree and elite football character. Some teams might worry about his long speed and whether he can play down the field as a man-to-man nickel while others will see him as a little short to be playing safety. However, there will likely be more teams who see it the other way, viewing Molden as a versatile defender whose competitive nature, play strength and anticipation help him play as big and fast as he needs to. He’s a team leader with NFL-caliber play recognition and feel for the game. While he does lack plus acceleration out of transitions, he has fast feet and plays with good balance around the field in both coverage and as a steady, open-field tackler. Molden plays in the mold of a Washington defensive back: with urgency and a nose for the football. He is a Day 2 talent with the intangibles to help elevate a defense.

Final Thoughts

Molden’s high school injuries will need to be vetted by the Broncos’ medical staff and his physical limitations aren’t going to go away, but he’s a gamer with rare intangibles to make a lasting impact on the Broncos. One of my guys in this class and I’d love for him to wind up in orange and blue.