Elijah Molden is a football player.
Of course, that’s the cliché when a player may not fit into one particular position, or when his 40-yard dash time or measurables can’t match his impact.
But for Molden, the cliché is entirely accurate.
On Friday, the two-time Pro Football Focus second-team All-American was taken by the Tennessee Titans with the 100th overall pick in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He was also the third Husky off the board, following outside linebacker Joe Tryon (No. 32 to Tampa Bay) and defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike (No. 41 to Detroit).
In the end, Molden’s unassuming size (5-10, 192) and 40-yard dash time (4.58 seconds) didn’t matter quite as much as four straight seasons of transcendent tape.
“One of the better picks in round three,” ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said of Tennessee’s selection. “Here’s a guy, forget workout numbers, height, weight, speed, all of that stuff. For a pure football player, he could be on the top of your list. Elijah Molden can flat-out play. He’s a lot, to me, like an Asante Samuel, with great bloodlines. If you look at what Elijah Molden does, he understands the game. He has great anticipation and tremendous awareness in coverage.”
Added ESPN analyst Louis Riddick: “He’s an absolute jedi in the slot. I’ve been waiting to say that.”
He certainly was that at UW, where the West Linn, Ore., product and former four-star recruit was a three-time All-Pac-12 selection who contributed 153 career tackles with 25 passes defended, seven tackles for loss, five interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
He did so primarily at nickelback, though Molden occasionally slid back to safety in 2020 as well.
“He could play for sure nickel, corner, and he could play safety — in that order,” UW head coach Jimmy Lake said Wednesday. “Nickel’s a huge part of the NFL now for the last few years. Everyone’s running one tight end, one running back, three receivers, which typically defenses will deploy a five-defensive-back look with a nickel. Everybody’s playing it. On the (NFL Draft) ticker it shouldn’t just say ‘corner’ and ‘safety.’ I’ve always said it should say ‘nickel.’ ‘This guy just got drafted as a nickel.’ Seventy, eighty percent of the time those guys are out there playing — first down, second down, of course third and fourth down, two-minute drills, you name it.
“But I think Elijah is a nickel and a corner, and if somebody needed him to play safety he can do that as well.”
Or, put another way: he’s a (professional) football player.
And he’s only getting better.
“I don’t think about it too much,” Molden said after his pro day in March, when asked about outside criticism. “I stay off social media with that stuff. It’s never helped me play in a game. I’m only concerned about myself five years down the line. I think I’m just starting to play good football, too. So I’m excited to see where I’ll be at by that time.”