Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Scouting the Roster: Jalen Elliott

June 19, 2017

Player name: Jalen Elliott

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 208

Player position: Strong safety

Years of eligibility left: 3

Projected rank on the depth chart: Competing to start

Player productivity so far:

2015: 13 tackles

What player does best: There is no doubt that Elliott looks the part. He’s put on close to 15 pounds of muscle since his senior year of high school has the kind of size they are looking for in a traditional strong safety. He’s also a very good athlete and has the kind of speed where it doesn’t seem that unreasonable that there were people who projected him to corner.

His physical skill set fits what they need at the position. He has range to split the field and play deep as a two high safety. He also shows a good ability to come downhill from depth and be a physical tackler.

We saw him drop down as an 8th defender in the box as well and it really suited his game. He can match up in man better than most his size and we saw him intercept the football in the Blue-Gold off a deflected pass. It was an encouraging sign for someone with little experience and production getting his hands on the football.

What player needs to work on: Might as well go back to what I just mentioned. He is inexperienced and barely played as a freshman. When he was inserted into games, there were often times where he looked overwhelmed mentally due to him being in the wrong position. He always seemed to be chasing instead of finding himself in the right spot.

He definitely looked like he had a much better grasp of the defense in the spring, but I haven’t seen that translate to him being more instinctive yet. Some guys just have that right away where they recognize things quickly and will find themselves breaking up or intercepting the football frequently. We haven’t seen that from him and that can be improved with more reps and film study.

One play really sticks out for me with Elliott from the spring game. He had a chance to make an impact hit on Equanimeous St. Brown along the sideline when Brandon Wimbush fit in a pass to him against cover two. Elliott got their a split second late to make the play on the ball, but had a chance to knock the ball out by making St. Brown pay for making the catch. He whiffed and St. Brown cut inside for additional yards after the catch.

That’s a play Elliott has to make this season if he wants to be the starter in 2017.

Productivity of former ND players and top players in the nation at his position:

Drue Tranquill 2016: 79 tackles 2 TFL 2 PBU 1 INT

Elijah Shumate 2015: 70 tackles 6.5 TFL 2 PBU 1 INT

Zeke Motta 2012: 77 tackles 2 TFL 3 PBU

Josh Jones NC State: 109 tackles 3.5 TFL 1 sack 8 PBU 3 INT 1 forced fumble

Ronnie Harrison Alabama: 85 tackles 1.5 TFL 7 PBU 2 INT 1 blocked kick

Obi Melifonwu UCONN: 118 tackles 2.5 TFL 3 PBU 4 INT

Jamal Adams LSU: 76 tackles 7.5 TFL 1 sack 4 PBU 1 INT 1 forced fumble

John Johnson Boston College: 77 tackles 2.5 TFL 1 sack 9 PBU 3 INT

What can we hope for? Let’s first start that we can hope that Elliott does enough to hang on to the job. It’s not a guarantee with some others like Isaiah Robertson and potentially transfer Alohi Gilman pushing him. If he does that, then it likely means Elliott is doing a lot of good things on the back end of the Irish defense.We can hope that Elliott becomes a consistent tackler. That is of the utmost importance and we saw signs some positive signs of that in the spring.

If things click mentally for Elliott, then he can be an incredibly productive player. He checks the boxes athletically more so than some recent strong safeties for the Irish and he has an infectious attitude on the field. He plays with passion for the game.

He has the potential to be an effective player close to and further away from the line of scrimmage. Hopefully he gets his hands on the football around ten times (combined PBUs and interceptions) and finishes in the top four on the team in tackles.

What is a realistic expectation? Having the athletic traits to succeed and actually succeeding are two very different things. What’s realistic is that Elliott will take steps to become a good player and develop more consistency, but we have to remember he has barely played defense. He came in as a star quarterback for his high school and played a bit on defense. That’s why he was only able to come in and be a depth player despite serious concerns about the safety position last season. He had a lot of learning to do on the job.

If Notre Dame had done a better job of recruiting the position previously, he would have benefited from redshirting. The game reps won’t hurt him, but he didn’t play enough for it be a significant boost for him this season in my opinion.

So with that, I think it’s realistic that there will be several ups and downs for Elliott. Sometimes he will flash in an impressive way, but mistakes will happen with a sophomore first time starter. For that reason, there is a good possibility that he may not start every game or even win the job coming out of camp. He may end up emerging as an elite player and he certainly has all the tools to be one down the road, but steady progress this season with some dips against elite competition is more likely.

What about the future? I think the future is bright for Elliott. Not just because of what he can do as an athlete, but because of his work ethic. From everything I know, he wants to be a great football player. That matters. A lot.

If he puts in the time to do that, then maybe he proves me wrong and this year is a coming out party for him. The odds are better that 2018 and 2019 will be that for him, though. Notre Dame needs consistency from the strong safety position more than anything else.

They have had that before, but it would be a lot bigger if they had a difference maker who could shine as an 8th defender in the box and also be productive in coverage. We’ll see if Elliott is on his way to becoming that difference maker this fall.
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