Desmond Trufant. Kevin King. Budda Baker. Marcus Peters. Sidney Jones. Taylor Rapp. Byron Murphy. These players all hail from the defensive back factory known as the University of Washington, and they have all been selected within the first two rounds of NFL Drafts over the past decade. Under renowned defensive coaches Justin Wilcox, Keith Heyward, Jimmy Lake, and Will Harris, Washington has become a contender for the title of “DBU” on the west coast. Their next elite product is a versatile playmaker in defensive back Elijah Molden.

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One of 2019’s best

Molden could have declared for the 2020 NFL Draft and would have been in contention to be a first-round pick. He’s coming off of a 2019 season where he led the Pac-12 in interceptions, pass breakups, and forced fumbles. Molden’s 17 total passes defended tied for sixth in the country and put him tied at fourth among all returning DBs. Molden also led the entire Washington defense in tackles, as a cornerback. He allowed only two big plays and two touchdowns this season, but I’m not entirely sure either was his fault.

Molden isn’t physically intimidating, listed at 5’10, 191 pounds. However, that hasn’t stopped him from locking up the big opposing wide receivers that he’s lined up against throughout his career. Molden was named to the 2019 All-Pac-12 first-team, as well as winning the MVP of Washington’s bowl game in a win over Boise State last year, where Molden posted nine tackles, a half tackle for loss, a forced fumble, and a crucial interception off of Hank Bachmeier that cemented the win for Washington.

Coverage ability

The most enticing trait about Molden is his outstanding ability in man coverage. His footwork in man is top-notch, with no wasted steps. He can turn and flip his hips with ease, not losing a step in his transitions. The fluidity that Molden displays on tape is simply uncanny. He’s sticky in man coverage and does a great job at staying in the pocket of the receiver to make a play and disrupt the pass.

Elijah Molden

A defensive back’s “ball skills” is a general term for how he plays the ball when it is in the air. This can mean both when he is turned around with his back to the ball, or when he is playing forward and facing the ball. For Molden, he checks off both boxes.

Another area where Molden shined during the 2019 season was his awareness and instincts in coverage. His ability to process the play happening in front of him greatly improved, leading to his career year in interceptions and pass breakups. Washington has developed its defensive backs well in this area, and Elijah Molden is certainly no exception. His father, Alex, also played defensive back and was drafted 11th overall in the 1996 NFL Draft. His experience playing has helped rubbed off on Elijah and helped him hone his awareness.

Versatility

Elijah also fits the Washington mold of a versatile defensive back. The Huskies played six defensive backs on 76% of their snaps last season, and Molden was a chess-piece on defense, playing both inside and outside at corner. Part of the reason for this is because Molden wasn’t a liability in run defense, which coaches run the risk of when deploying multiple DB looks. In fact, Molden’s run defense is another strong area where he has established himself. I’ve not seen a corner of Molden’s size who takes on and deconstructs blocks at the point of attack as well as Molden does. It’s uncanny. He is not afraid to get involved in the middle of the run game – in fact, he seems to relish it.

Molden’s 2021 NFL Draft outlook

Molden decided to return for his senior season at Washington, prolonging his NFL hopes for just one more season. As stated earlier, Molden put enough on tape to warrant a very high selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. My biggest concern off of his tape would be his deep speed. He isn’t the athlete that Trufant was coming out of Washington, who ran a 4.38 40-yard dash. Molden is more of a late 4.4-4.5 corner, much like Jones, Peters, and Murphy all were.

If Molden had declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, I firmly believe he would have been a first-round pick. His play as the season went on was among the best in the country. He has a chance to cement his first-round stock as a senior this year in 2020. Molden’s tape shows several NFL-worthy traits, including elite man coverage ability and natural instincts that make him one of the best corners in college football.

Molden is a candidate to compete for the CB1 spot in the 2021 NFL Draft, and I wouldn’t put it past him to lock that up this upcoming season. Elijah Molden looks like the next great Washington defensive back in the NFL.