Baltimore Ravens

Matt Elam is the Ravens' biggest first-round bust, but not the most damaging one to the franchise

After being arrested over the weekend on drug possession charges, safety Matt Elam has become the team's biggest first-round bust ever.

At the end of his fourth season in 2016, Elam was put into the same first-round "bust" classification as receivers Travis Taylor and Mark Clayton, but there was hope here that maybe Elam would start to live up to expectations.


Of course, it was wishful thinking, but almost everyone roots for a young player to make the best of a second or third chance. After the recent arrest, Taylor and Clayton can put their minds at ease:

Matt Elam is the winner.


At least Clayton and Taylor gave the Ravens something. Taylor, the No. 10 overall pick in 2000, had 204 catches for 2,758 yards and 15 touchdowns during his five seasons in Baltimore. He showed promise and flash, but never consistency.

Clayton was a gamble from the beginning because of his size, 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds. He was the Ravens' 22nd overall pick in the 2005 draft, and had 12 touchdowns, 237 catches and 3,142 yards in his five seasons in Baltimore.

Both were good locker room guys and worked hard, but proved not to be worthy of the first-round status. Except for some brief signs during his rookie year, Elam has given the Ravens nothing.

He had 77 tackles and one interception during his rookie year when he was the No. 32 overall pick out of Florida, but has disappeared since then. He struggled in his second season, as his total tackles dropped to 50 and he started only 11 games.

A torn biceps forced him to miss all of 2015, and he had only four tackles last year after being put on injured reserve on Sept. 5 and eventually being deactivated nearly two months later. Once the arrest took place, the Ravens had no more use for him, especially because Elam was suspended for one game in October of 2015 for violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Elam's release was inevitable before the start of the 2017 season, but the news Saturday touched off a debate about the worst first-round pick ever. On an individual basis, Elam wins hands down.

But as far as overall impact on the team, the pick that had the most devastating effect is still quarterback Kyle Boller.

In five seasons in Baltimore, Boller had a 21-19 record as a starter. He threw for 2,559 yards in 2004 and had more than 1,700 yards passing in both 2005 and 2007. But like Elam, Clayton and Taylor, he never lived up to expectations and he cost the Ravens too much.


The Ravens gave up a second-round pick in 2003 and a first-round selection in 2004 to the New England Patriots in order to select Boller with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2003 draft. The move set the Ravens back a couple of years as far as player development.

Worse yet, Boller's training years were during the dominant playing days of such defensive greats as linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware, cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Ed Reed. His lack of development eventually led to the firing of head coach Brian Billick after the 2007 season.

But again, Boller did get better. He gave the Ravens something. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and assistant Eric DeCosta have to be shaking their heads wondering what went wrong with Elam.

When they first introduced Elam years ago, they said he played "like a Raven." But he missed numerous tackles and was often out of position. Usually in the NFL, if a defensive back can't tackle, he can cover.

Elam couldn't do either.

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At the Ravens' end-of-the-season news conference, owner Steve Bisciotti pointed out that a lot of teams and draft experts had thought Elam was one of the better safeties available in 2013.


Well, so what? The problem is that ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. didn't select Elam, and neither did co-host Todd McShay. Even the Cleveland Browns didn't select Elam.

By Sunday, the Ravens were already parting with Elam, saying he wasn't in their plans for 2017. It's too late. On both ESPN and CNN, they were already reporting the arrest of "Ravens" safety Matt Elam.

The Ravens can't afford these mistakes anymore. They haven't been to the playoffs in three of the last four years, and they finally had a decent enough draft last season to put them in position to make the playoffs in 2017.

They don't need another first-round bust. They don't need another Matt Elam.