Kaiir Elam focused on helping Gators win, not NFL draft
Over the past two years, college football players with high first-round projections have started opting out before or during the season to prepare for the NFL draft.
That trend is not being followed by Florida star cornerback Kaiir Elam.
Despite dealing with an injury and the Gators being unranked, Elam hasn’t considered bowing out for the rest of the season. He’s not quitting on his team with games left to play.
“I’m a Gator. I bleed orange and blue. Any time I’m on that field or I’m in practice, I’m going to go my hardest to help us win a game, honestly. I’m not thinking about the future,” Elam said. “I’m thinking about every single practice leading up to Georgia right now and I'm focused on just winning this game, winning the next one and winning the next one after that.
“We have, what, five games left in the regular season? So I’m not really focused on the business decision right now. I’m focused on helping this team win.”
With unanimous first-round projections and a stellar start to his junior season, Elam could have decided to rest on his laurels after spraining his knee against Alabama. He broke up three passes in that game and had allowed zero completions in press coverage through the first three weeks.
The injury sidelined Elam for the first time in his college career. He missed the next three games and was chomping at the bit to get back for LSU.
“It’s been a battle for me mentally because I never missed a game in middle school or high school. So just not being out there to compete and help my team has been difficult,” Elam said. “LSU, when I came back and we lost, I felt like I’ve got to do a better job being more prepared when I’m out there. But honestly, I mean, I’m blessed to be here. I’m just blessed to be able to compete with my team. I’m not worried about anything but winning games, honestly.”
Elam admits that people have tried to sway him to think about his NFL future, but said losing focus on the task at hand will hurt himself and his teammates. Elam has a desire to improve his game and be a leader on defense, according to Florida coach Dan Mullen.
“You’ve got to love the game of football, you’ve got to love being on the team. A guy like Kaiir does that and he wants to get better as a football player,” Mullen said. “I think it would be scary for anybody to sit there and say, ‘I’m not going to play any more, I don't want to work or get better.’ So I think a guy like Kaiir; it just shows his work ethic, his grind, how he focuses on his improvement every single day. I think whatever he does in the future, that's going to bode well for him because it shows his character and the kind of person that he is.”
That was also evident with the guidance and pointers Elam provided freshmen cornerbacks Avery Helm and Jason Marshall Jr. in his absence. Helm and Marshall have been elevated to starting roles with the injuries to Elam and Jaydon Hill, who suffered a torn ACL in preseason camp.
“It’s a position that we’ve suffered some pretty tough injuries at. But he’s been able to come step in and help those guys improve and grow,” Mullen said of Elam. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement out of the corners throughout the whole year.”
That includes Elam, who has raised his draft stock this season in spite of being out. He was projected as a first-round pick by ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay in their latest NFL draft rankings.
Elam's focus, however, remains on the Florida-Georgia game, which will likely be his final time experiencing the rivalry.
“This is a huge game, one that I have to be super focused and locked in for, give it my all,” Elam said. “I think this is a huge game for our defense and our whole team in general. I’m just going out there to help my team win.”
Who: Florida (4-3, 2-3 SEC) vs. No. 1 Georgia (7-0, 5-0)
When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850