By all indications, rookie safety
He earned a starting job by Week 3 and finished the season ranked fourth on the team with 77 tackles.
But in the eyes of the Ravens’ first-round pick, his first NFL season was a disappointment.
“I don’t think I played good at all,” Elam said after cleaning out his locker this week. “I have very high expectations for myself, and of the goals and expectations that I set for myself this year, I probably met three out of 10 of my goals. I feel like I let myself down this season.”
Elam has been a star throughout his football career. He was a prized recruit coming out of high school and was an All-American by his junior year at Florida. The Ravens then took him with the No. 32 overall pick this past April.
Elam came into this season with the difficult responsibility of following in the footsteps of legendary safety Ed Reed, a future Hall of Famer.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself because I’m a very hard critic,” Elam said. “I feel like I had to come here and I had a lot to prove because they chose me first and they were expecting big things from me. I put a lot of pressure on myself.
“You want to come in and do that job and do what they expect you to do.”
The biggest area where Elam has stressed he wants to improve is getting his hands on the football. He had just one interception this year, which came at the end of a Monday Night Football victory against the Detroit Lions.
Elam was known for his ball-hawking skills in college, but he wasn’t able make those game-changing plays his rookie year. Head Coach John Harbaugh said he is “on board” with hoping Elam comes up with some more turnovers next year, but stressed that Elam played well this year.
“The thing I pointed out to him is when you’re a safety, you better be solid first,” Harbaugh said. “For the most part, he was solid back there. He can build on that, and he will.”
Part of the change for Elam this season was that he transitioned to playing free safety, rather than the strong safety spot he played in college. At free safety, he did not have as many opportunities to come up in the box to make stops on short passes and the running game.
Starting strong safety
“Safeties are more interchangeable these days,” Harbaugh said. “Matt is pretty darn good when he is running to the ball and making tackles. I think that’s definitely a strength for him, and he showed that toward the end of the year.”
As Elam heads into the offseason, he plans to take some time away from the game to relax and allow his body to heal.
“It was just a learning experience,” Elam said. “I’m going to make sure I improve and I’m very confident because I know how hard I work, and I know what I learned, and I know the small things that it takes to be a great player.”