After the departure of star cornerback J.C. Jackson in free agency, it became clear the New England Patriots had an obvious void in the secondary. All it takes is one look at New England’s current cornerback depth chart and it’s easy to see it’s a group that needs to be upgraded in this year’s 2022 NFL draft.
Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. and Florida’s Kaiir Elam are two cornerback prospects currently being mocked to New England quite frequently. That begs to question: Which of the two is the better prospect? What are their differences stylistically? Or athletically? Most importantly, which one is a better fit for the Patriots? Without further ado, let’s take a look at how Booth and Elam stack up against each other.
Andrew Booth Jr. vs. Kaiir Elam
Both prospects have the ideal size and length for the cornerback position. Elam is an inch and a half taller than Booth (6’1 1/2” to 6’0”), but Booth has the longer arm length (31 1/2″ to 30 7/8″). Additionally, they’re pretty evenly matched in weight, with Elam weighing in at 191lbs and Booth coming in at 194lbs. Neither prospect has much of an advantage here over the other.
Man coverage: Booth
Everything about Booth’s skillset screams man to man cover corner. He has very quick feet, which allows him to mirror routes and stay in the hip pocket of opposing wideouts. His quick feet paired with his length, ball skills, and lateral speed make for a prospect with very high upside in man coverage.
Conversely, Elam can be a bit shakier in man coverage simply because he relays a lot more on his physicality. Elam can take a wideout right off his route at the line of scrimmage, but at the same time, he’s seen his fair share of penalties in man coverage. Wideouts that can get off the ball and avoid his press coverage can also be tough for Elam. That said, his strength, length, and speed are all tremendous assets to have in man coverage.
Zone coverage: Elam
Elam reads and reacts very well in zone coverage. He has excellent football discipline, which allows him to anticipate and work his way into position to make a play. For a Patriots team that may play more zone this season, Elam may be intriguing.
Booth showed some inconsistency in zone coverage, but with good coaching, those issues can likely improve. Keep in mind, Booth didn’t play a ton before the 2021 season so some of the struggles in zone can likely be attributed to growing pains.
Press ability: Elam
Both are capable press corners, but Elam’s physicality and use of his hands at the line of scrimmage to re-route opponents gives him the edge here. As previously mentioned, Elam can completely knock a wideout off his route at the line of scrimmage. It’s special stuff.
While Booth is capable in press coverage, he is nowhere near as physical as Elam at the line of scrimmage. Booth prefers to mirror and use his quickness instead.
Tackling/Run Defense: Booth
This is an area both players could improve. It’s not a strength of either player. Booth, however, takes better angles, can get off blocks easier, and is a more than willing tackler. In fact, he’s pretty aggressive in this department. Again, this is by no means strength for Booth, but he slightly edges out Elam.
Speaking of Elam, the angles he takes to tackle can be poor at times. The good news is that he’s a willing tackler. His technique and angles may need to be coached up, but it’s not a lack of effort.
Booth didn’t compete at the combine, but his speed and most of all his quickness, are very evident when watching him play.
As for Elam, he somewhat surprisingly ran a 4.39 40-yard dash. That’s a very good time for a player of his size. The quickness may not be what Booth’s is but he’s got juice as well.
Injury Situation: Elam
Elam suffered an injury last season but appears to be fully healthy now. The same unfortunately cannot be said for Booth. Booth recently had surgery for a sports hernia. He is expected to be back by training camp.
Ball skills: Booth
There are no cornerbacks in this year’s draft class with better ball skills than Booth, who has a seemingly endless highlight reel of game-changing plays on the ball. Simply put, his ball skills are elite. He’s a playmaker.
Although Elam doesn’t have the otherworldly ball skills of Booth, he’s made his fair share of impressive plays on the ball too.
It seems fairly obvious that both players are a good fit for New England. Both would give the Patriots’ cornerback room an immediate boost and some much-needed upside.
However, with Booth’s recent surgery, there are some questions about whether or not he will slide down the board come draft night. For the Patriots, who are forever trying to maximize value when it comes to draft picks, the decision may very well come down to the draft capital needed to select either player.
Trading back out of 21 and still being able to select Booth in the late first or early second would be an incredible value. Booth has top-tier talent. A trade back and selecting Elam could be in the cards as well, but it could be a bit risky. The Cardinals, at pick 23, look like a potential destination for Elam.
Ultimately, Patriots fans should be thrilled with either prospect, but the opportunity to get the very most value may come in the form of Booth if he falls due to his sports hernia surgery.