INDIANAPOLIS – Shortly after his session at the podium with the national media Sunday, University of Florida safety Matt Elam professed that there must be something in the water in South Florida responsible for producing NFL talent.
Elam and Jonathan Cyprien out of Florida International University happen to be sitting near the top of most of the rankings being put out by the draft experts, which bodes well for their hometowns. Elam grew up in Palm Beach Gardens and starred at William T. Dwyer High School and Cyprien is a North Miami Beach High grad and they graduated a year apart, with Cyprien part of a very talented 2009 class from the area.
“Yeah, 2009 is a strong class. Coming out of South Florida, it’s usually a strong class, but I wasn’t expecting all this,” said Cyprien, who was diagnosed with a right hamstring injury during the medical evaluations and was unable to participate in the on-the-field drills today. “But looking around, and seeing the guys I played versus in high school, I always heard about it, and I’m happy for them, and not only south Florida, but a lot of guys around the country that came out in 2009 that’s coming out into the draft this year.”
While Cyprien was forced to watch his fellow defensive backs run their 40-yard dashes and put their ball skills on display, Elam took advantage of his time in the spotlight and did not disappoint. He wanted to run in the 4.4-second range in the 40 and his first unofficial time was 4.46, but it was adjusted to a 4.54 officially. That still placed him fifth among the safeties at the Combine and he also was a top performer in the bench press with 17 repetitions of 225 pounds (tied for ninth).
Elam has the bloodlines to fall back on with his older brother, Abram Elam, having played seven seasons in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs also as a strong safety. They are almost 10 years apart in age but are very close.
“He taught me a lot because he has the experience, so I’m learning from him everyday. It’s an advantage,” Elam said. “It was always competitive (growing up). He pushed me. He challenged me all the time. That made me who I am today.
“He taught me that I need to grow up fast, that this is a big man’s league and basically taking authority. That was a problem for me in college. He taught me that too. I need to learn how to take more authority and grow up and handle situations differently.”
Last month at the Senior Bowl, Cyprien opened a lot of eyes and helped raise his stock in the draft with a strong week of practice and a solid performance in the game. He seemed to gain momentum headed into the Combine, climbing to the top of the rankings out of 147 strong safeties by NFLDraftScout.com. His size (6-foot, 217 pounds) will be attractive to many teams in the league and his 38.5-inch vertical jump in Indy (5th among safeties) won’t hurt either.
Cyprien intercepted three passes as a senior for the Golden Panthers racked up 93 tackles (54 solo), eight passes defensed and one forced fumble. Being able to work with an NFL coaching staff in Mobile, Alabama helped prepare him for some of what he had to face while in Indianapolis meeting with teams.
“I worked with the Raiders staff on the North side, but it was great,” Cyprien said. “Coach [Johnnie] Lynn and coach [Clayton Lopez], the DB coaches, and the defensive coordinator, and coach (Dennis) Allen and it was great. Getting that NFL vibe in the meetings and practices, it was great.”
Since Elam came out as a junior he couldn’t participate in the Senior Bowl or any of the other all-star games, so in addition to what he put on film in three seasons for the Gators, he knew how important this week would be for him. Mayock has him rated as the second best safety in the draft and compared him in body type to Donte Whitner, as he measured in at 5-10, 208.
The fact that Elam played in a very tough and talented Southeastern Conference also will help him because of the caliber of competition he faced on a weekly basis. He finished his career with six interceptions, five sacks, 19 passes defensed and 176 tackles (124 solo), with two of those sacks and four of the interceptions coming last season.
“I feel like that helped me out a lot,” said Elam, who was the top-rated safety and 10th-rated player overall coming out of high school by Scout.com. “Most of the best players in the SEC end up being the best players in the NFL. We had a great defense. Everybody was flying around and I trusted everybody on defense. We came together as a team and that helped our confidence build. I feel like defense wins championships. Defense is always going to lead the team.”
Come the end of April, both Cyprien and Elam could end up being selected in the early rounds of the NFL Draft and continuing the trend of South Florida being fertile ground for productive NFL players.
Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner was tight-lipped during his media session about what time he wanted to run today in the 40 and how he wanted to perform in general. His standard reply, delivered with a confident smile, was simply, “Watch the NFL Combine.” Well, anyone who took his advice to heart was rewarded with a blazing 4.37 seconds – with a torn labrum. His first unofficial time was 4.31 and he still finished with the second best time among cornerbacks, just one one-hundredth of a second behind Mississippi State’s Darius Slay (4.36). When he crossed the finish line, Mayock remarked, “Welcome to the top 10 Mr. Milliner,” pointing out that speed was the one question he needed to answer here. If that holds true then Milliner can rest easy that the slew of dropped passes he had in the ball drills won’t hurt him. … On the flip side of the coin, Slay’s teammate with the Bulldogs, cornerback Johnthan Banks, might have hurt his draft status after struggling to a 4.61 in the 40. He managed only 10 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and his 34-inch vertical leap for his size (6-2, 185). … Another player trying to leave an impression was Tyrann Mathieu, who was kicked off the LSU football team last year for rules violations. He told the media he no longer goes by the “Honey Badger” nickname and felt confident he could impress scouts this week. Mathieu ran a 4.50 in the 40, which will help him, along with a 34-inch vertical leap while standing just 5-9 and weighing 186 pounds. There was some concern over the fact that he could only push the 225-pound bench press bar up four times. … Finally, as has been the tradition now for six years, the last 40-yard dash shown on NFL Network was that of network host Rich Eisen. He was getting encouragement from Deion Sanders’ alter ego, Leon Sandcastle, and managed to tie his all-time best of 6.03 seconds in full suit and tie. … This could end up being the last NFL Scouting Combine held in the month of the February as the league this week revealed that discussions would take place about extending the offseason and moving the Combine to March, the start of free agency to April and the NFL Draft to May.