#4 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Elijah Molden (Washington)
5' 11", 190 pounds; SR
The son of former NFL defensive back Alex Molden and former top-200 overall recruit, Elijah Molden played in all 27 games his first two years in the Pacific Northwest as a backup before he really broke onto the scene as a junior.
He led the Huskies with 79 tackles, 5.5 of them for loss, four INTs and 12 passes broken up, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors. Last season UW only played four games, but Molden added another 26 tackles and a pick, while repeating first-team all-conference honors.
Molden basically played pure nickel for the Huskies in 2019, primarily on the wide side of the field, before he was actually used in some more deep safety assignments this past season. He displays tremendous acceleration and can carry slot fade routes down the field.
He is not scared of getting beat down the seams, putting his body in front receivers, and then he has the light feet to stop right there against curl or hook routes, while using those subtle jersey-tugs that don’t get flagged, to help himself. When receivers snap their head around, as they break inside after pushing vertically, Molden gets his eyes on the quarterback as well to see if the ball is coming out, while staying in phase with his man.
He is super physical against underneath routes and even with outside leverage in man-coverage, he will not get picked on with shallow crossers, sticking with slot guys and bringing them down right as they catch the ball for minimal yardage. And he has the great mobility in his lower body, to be caught a little bit off balance, but quickly get back into position, flipping around by nearly 180 degrees when receivers stem one way and then break the other.
Molden was even asked to man up against H-backs and wings, trailing them on motions and sift blocks. Over these last two years combined, he has allowed 72 of 111 targets his way to be completed, but only for 675 yards and two touchdowns, compared to five picks (over 600 coverage snaps). And his passer rating surrendered has gone down all three years with the Huskies.
Being used more in two-high shells for quarters coverage and be more deceptive with their defensive rotations last season. Molden has experience with a variety of responsibilities in zone coverage. He excels at driving on routes from those deep alignments or rotating down as a robber and he was even blitzed all the way 10-12 yards off, as the Huskies switched to a single-high coverage.
When covering shallow zones (hooks and flats), he displays active feet and high football intelligence, to decipher through route patterns. His hips may stay square to the line of scrimmage, but he drifts sideways ever so slightly, to not give open throwing windows to somebody right behind him. He does a good job of slightly re-routing receivers and putting his hands on them, before passing them on to the next area.
Molden plays with his hair on fire, when he sees an opportunity to get to the ball. He quickly transitions forward, as the ball is thrown underneath, and hits receivers at the hip level. Molden fights hard to get around blocks in the screen and perimeter run game. I love the way he shoots downhill and throws his body around, often times dipping underneath bigger bodies to get to the ball – even with offensive linemen getting out there.
Yet, at the same time, he doesn’t blindly jump on bubbles on the backside of run plays, but rather keeps his shoulders square and shuffles along. And you can rely on him to bring down the guy with the ball, illustrated by only 22 missed tackles on 172 career attempts.
When Molden can get his hands on receivers and stay over the top, he can make it tough for them to get into their routes, but if he gets his back towards the quarterback and the receiver can break either way, he can lose them at times. He can get a little impatient against stutter releases and prematurely open his hips.
He tends to get caught trying to reach for receivers when he just gives up one step of separation instead of continuing to pump his arms, in order to maximize his speed and actually get back into phase. While I believe Molden could play more safety at the next level, he doesn’t have a lot of experience at the collegiate level and his lack of length at 5'10", with only 29 ½" arms, could present some issues.
Nevertheless, I’m not one to get scared off too much by measurements, if they aren’t required for a certain role. I wouldn’t expect Molden to be matched up tight-ends on passing downs a whole lot, but he has the recovery skills and competitiveness to be a pest for slot receivers.
With 18 plays on the ball in the 17 games over these last two years, he has proven to be an impact player in that regard. And while his role was pretty limited at UW, the athletic ability and smarts aren’t missing. Molden could be one of the better nickels in the league as a rookie and take on more responsibilities, as he develops.