By Brentley Weissman
As we inch closer to draft season, we are starting to have a much better idea of who the top prospects are at each various position. One position where there is no general consensus No. 1 player is at cornerback, where there are many players vying for the top spot.
Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II has all the physical tools and top SEC resume, Virginia tech’s Caleb Farley opted out this season but is perhaps the most athletic of any corner prospect, and lastly South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn has arguably the best tape this season. This year’s cornerback class is truly shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory, and there is one player in particular who I believe is getting slept on a bit and that is Washington’s Elijah Molden.
Molden, who is a senior for the Huskies, is having a great season and just recently accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl. With all of the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused this season it is surprising that Molden is even playing and didn’t elect to opt out and focus on the NFL draft. Molden’s resume leading up to his senior season was definitely strong enough to make him consider opting out as he was easily one of the best defensive backs in all of college football in 2019.
As a junior, Molden racked up 79 tackles, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles while earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors. His tape last season showed a player who would definitely be playing on Sundays, so the choice to play this season and risk injury certainly should have given Molden pause. But that just isn’t who Molden is. He is a true football player who loves the game and loves being out on the field competing with his teammates. His passion for football is evident whenever you watch him play.
The decision to play this season has paid off for Molden, as he has only helped his NFL draft stock. In four games, Molden has recorded 26 tackles and one interception while leading the Huskies defense. As it stands, Molden projects to be a mid-Day 2 pick in next year’s draft yet there are very few that would list Molden in their top seven or so corners. The main reason for this is that Molden lacks top end speed and size for the cornerback position.
Increasingly, we have seen a trend of NFL teams prioritizing length and size in their defensive backs and coveting players who may have better physical traits over players who lack size, but are just excellent football players. What Molden lacks in size and speed, he makes up ten fold with his instincts, awareness, short-area quicks, and toughness. Molden is an ideal nickel in today’s NFL and teams would be wise not to sleep on him.
Below is a scouting report of Molden based off film study of him from this season's tape.
Molden is a fourth-year senior who has played a lot of football in his time at Washington. He primarily lines up at nickel in Washington’s defense and also has reps as an outside corner as well as safety. He has just above average size and top-end speed but is quick in short areas.
In the passing game he has outstanding route awareness and anticipation. He quickly reads route combinations underneath and beats wide receivers out of their breaks. He has very good timing. He’ll jump quick hitting pass plays and get his hands inside for deflections. He has outstanding instincts in zone coverage and has excellent short-area quicks to close.
In man coverage he shows outstanding competitiveness and toughness. Likes to get his hands on receivers early and make it difficult for receivers off the line. More explosive route-runners can set him up with double moves and separate across the field. He works to recover and get back in on a play, but struggles to close the gap and his athletic limitations are exposed. He has a hard time keeping up vertically, but does a good job getting his head around to locate the ball. He has outstanding timing and instincts to dislodge the football at the catch point and exceptional ball skills and production when the ball is in the air down the field.
He's arguably the best run defending corner in this class. He's quick to key and read run with an outstanding trigger and a very good tackler in space and is tough to defeat blocks.
Overall, Molden’s size and athletic deficiencies will limit him to being a nickel only in the NFL, but his combination of instincts, quickness, and toughness makes him an easy projection at the next level and should be a day one starter inside and a difference maker for years to come.
While the league may put a higher emphasis on physical traits at the cornerback position, players such as Molden should not be overlooked. We have seen countless times where corners who may not run fast or have the requisite length fall in the draft and then still produce at the next level. Players like Desmond King, Chris Harris, Tyrann Mathieu, and Lamarcus Joyner are all players who have had very successful NFL careers while lacking elite top end physical traits.
Molden will likely be drafted as a late-second or early-third-round pick and wind up starting day one as a rookie. We’ll hear all season how he was underdrafted and how he was a steal for whichever team takes him. He will make plays, be sure a tackler, and a consummate professional from the moment he steps into the building. He is one of the easiest evaluations in this upcoming class and NFL teams should not over complicate it.