Bills first-round draft pick Kaiir Elam improves on ‘The Blueprint,’ follows father, uncle into NFL | Buffalo Bills News | NFL


Kaiir Elam turns 21 years old this week, on Cinco de Mayo, one of the booziest dates on the calendar.

The Buffalo Bills’ first-round draft pick said he hasn’t considered how he’ll celebrate the big day. But if past is prologue, he might just go to bed early.

A 6-foot-1½, 191-pounder, the 20-year-old Elam finished his Florida career with six interceptions in 35 games. He also had 79 tackles, 26 passes defensed and one fumble recovery. He started 10 games in 2021 and recorded 29 tackles, six passes defensed and one interception.

Besides, nothing could top the scene Thursday night at a family friend’s house in Juno Beach, Fla.

“I’ve never seen him show so much emotion,” his mother, Shayla Davis, told The Buffalo News. “Everything that he’s worked so hard for, it all came to a head at one time.”

Elam, flanked by dozens of supporters, roared as he sprang from his seat on the couch and pulled a blue Bills cap over his head as the reigning two-time AFC East champions traded up two spots to select the University of Florida cornerback with the No. 23 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Here are five things to know about Kaiir Elam.

Buffalo swapped the No. 25 pick and a fourth-round selection with the Baltimore Ravens, which coincidentally selected his uncle, safety Matt Elam, out of Florida in the first round in 2013.

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Kaiir’s father, Abram Elam, also played safety in the NFL. He signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2005 and bounced around the league for eight years, starting 71 of 104 career games with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs. His lone career pick six was a 92-yard interception return against the Bills in 2008.

“This is his moment,” Abram said Friday after Kaiir’s introductory press conference at One Bills Drive. “He took advantage of every opportunity and made the most of it. This isn’t about me. This is him. As a father, this is what you always dream of, your son having more or better than what you set out to do. … We always have a saying in the family. They call me ‘The Blueprint,’ but I see him and Matt and they took the plans and they enhanced it. You know what I mean? So they’ve taken it and did their thing with it and made it even better. And that’s what you always want.”

The elder Elam brothers had their reputations marred and playing careers sidetracked by well-publicized legal troubles.

Abram, 40, was convicted of felony sexual battery and expelled from Notre Dame in 2002. He received two years’ probation and community service, but no prison time, then attended community college in Florida and worked as an assistant in a pediatric dentist’s office before returning to the gridiron at Kent State in 2004.

The Bills have added a cornerback with elite physical talent in Kaiir Elam. The move gives the Bills some peace of mind.

Matt, 30, missed the 2015 season with a torn biceps, never reclaimed his starting role with the Ravens and was arrested twice in a span of three months in 2017. He was first charged with speeding, possession of more than four ounces of marijuana and six oxycodone pills in Miami Beach, then he arrested for larceny grand theft and battery after a dispute with his girlfriend over a mobile phone in Palm Beach County. All the charges against him were eventually dropped, but the incidents, combined with ineffective play, ended his disappointing tenure with the Ravens after 41 games.

The former first-team All-America safety most recently played with the D.C. Defenders of the XFL in 2020, the Tucson (Ariz.) Sugar Skulls of the Indoor Football League in 2021 and signed with the Edmonton Elks of the Canadian Football League in January.

“You’ve got to grow up,” he told KGUN-TV last summer. “And you’ve got to learn from those mistakes. When those things come to you again, when those distractions come to you again, you handle it differently.”

The brothers, who have lost three siblings to gun violence, are the president and vice president of TEAM Elam Inc., a nonprofit founded in 2008 with a goal to “show youth that through determination and perseverance, their goals can be accomplished and there is a second chance for greatness.”

Kaiir Elam, who stands 6-foot-1 1/2, weighs 191 pounds, ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine and was widely projected as a first-round pick, did not hire an agent when he declared for the draft, instead relying on his uncle and father to serve as advisors.

“My uncle and my dad, it’s a blessing that they’re in my life because I get to learn from the mistakes they made and the things they didn’t know when they were my age,” Kaiir said Thursday night, “so it allowed me to mature a lot more faster than a lot of people my age, I would say. And I’m just so grateful for them to be in my life because they’re guys who tell me not what I want to hear, but what I need to hear and can teach me.”

Kaiir Elam

Kaiir Elam, holding his new helmet, with his family including father Abram Elam, younger brother Aydan, 11, and his mom Shayla Davis. The Buffalo Bills traded up to get the 23rd pick and they selected cornerback Kaiir Elam from the University of Florida. The team introduced him on Friday, April 29, 2022, in Orchard Park.

Robert Kirkham

Elam struck just the right balance between the kind of bullet-proof confidence an NFL cornerback needs and the humility an NFL rookie must understand in making his way in the pro game.

‘What God gives, he can take away’

Former Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback Eric Kresser was Kaiir Elam’s high school football coach at The Benjamin School, a private college prep academy in Palm Beach County known more for its academics than athletics.

Kresser still marvels at Kaiir’s work ethic as a young teen and shared an anecdote from the student athlete’s sophomore year with The News, only hours after leaving his draft party.

“It was early Sunday and nobody was on campus,” Kresser said. “The gates were locked. I drive up to the field and I’m thinking, ‘Who’s this guy on our field? I’m going to have to call security.’ As I got closer I started to realize, ‘That’s Kaiir!’ He was out there running gassers by himself.

“Over, back. Over, back. Like a 200-yard sprint,” he said. “I pull up to the field and walk over to the fence, and the kid bends over the fence and starts throwing up all over the place. And that part, it’s kind of gross. But to think of a sophomore kid on a Sunday morning, out running gassers till he throws up, by himself, if that doesn’t tell you a little bit about Kaiir, I don’t know what does.”

Bills first-round draft pick Kaiir Elam got his first exposure to Buffalo fans as he got an ovation Friday night at the Sabres’ regular season finale against the Chicago Blackhawks at KeyBank Center.

Kresser, who played behind Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel at Florida and won a Division I-AA national championship with Randy Moss at Marshall, reinforced how impressed he was to find Kaiir sprinting until he ralphed.

“It takes a lot to make yourself work that hard to where you get sick,” Kresser said. “It’s one thing if your coach is in your face, making you do it. But when you’re by yourself, to get to that point, it takes a lot. And you’re talking about a 15-year-old kid.”

Kaiir demonstrated a superior commitment to improvement on a daily basis, Kresser said, working to transform his body from that of a typical high school freshman to a shredded Division I prospect within a year.

He played defensive back and wide receiver for four varsity seasons at Benjamin, recording 71 tackles, nine interceptions and three sacks, as well as 97 catches for 1,490 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also played basketball and ran track.

Kaiir was showered with scholarship offers from major Division I football programs.

Bills fans quickly took to social media to reach to the selection of Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam with the No. 23 pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night. 

He selected Florida, his uncle’s alma mater, over Georgia, Miami and Colorado.

“You just got to chase self-improvement on a daily basis, because what God gives, he can take away,” Kaiir said at his press conference Friday, with his father, mother and 11-year-old brother Aydan, wearing a No. 24 Bills Elam jersey and a team-branded winter cap, watching from the back of the room.

Kaiir Elam

The Buffalo Bills traded up to get the 23rd pick and they selected cornerback Kaiir Elam from the University of Florida. The team introduced him in Orchard Park on Friday, April 29, 2022.

Robert Kirkham

Former Florida cornerbacks coach Jules Montinar, now in the same role at Temple, gushed about Elam’s physical attributes, study habits and football IQ, and said the rookie is mentally ready to make the jump to the NFL, using an exchange from last season to prove his point.

“After games, a good amount of football players probably go out to dinner with the family or they’re probably partying that night,” Montinar said. “Sometimes alcohol is involved. Who knows what actually happens? But that happens. Let’s not be naïve.

“I called him up after a game. There was a recruit in town I needed him to hang out with. And he was in bed at like 9 o’clock. He said, ‘Coach, I’m tired, man. I’ve got to get some rest and get ready for next week.’ And those things don’t go advertised. Nobody knows about those type of things. But to me, this guy’s all business. He’s a pro.”

Elam amassed 79 tackles, six interceptions, 26 pass breakups and a fumble recovery in 35 career games with the Gators.

He earned first-team all-Southeastern Conference honors and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, presented to the top defensive back in college football, as a sophomore in 2020, when he racked up 39 tackles, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 12 games.

Last season, he had 29 tackles, a pick and six pass breakups in 10 starts.

“His tackling, at times, was a little bit shaky,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said. “We talked to him about it … there are some things technique-wise that we’ll have him work on and clean up. But he’s a great young man. I think he’ll fit our DNA, fit our culture.”

Elam is expected to replace Levi Wallace as the Bills’ No. 2 starting outside cornerback, opposite 2020 All-Pro Tre’Davious White, who is returning from surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered on Thanksgiving.

Wallace signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in March.

Elam said transitioning from the SEC to the NFL will be a challenge, but it is nothing he can’t handle.

“Everything, I expect to earn it,” Elam said. “There’s no promises. Just because I was drafted in the first round, I don’t think I should be entitled to anything. I think I have to earn everything that’s given to me. I’m sure I will.”

He was tongue-tied when told that Beane compared him favorably with White, the last cornerback the Bills drafted in the first round, with the No. 27 overall pick in 2017.

“Kaiir’s very confident. He knows how good he is,” Kresser said. “But he’s humble. He’s never going to think that the job is done. If they go win a Super Bowl next year, it’s, ‘All right, we’ve got to win another.’ He’s just going to keep working. He’s never satisfied. He’s got a mindset like Tom Brady.”

Kaiir Elam (Jr., Florida, 6-1, 191)

Kaiir Elam is a big corner with elite ball skills who fine-tuned his technique after an underwhelming sophomore season. 

‘Making him a better person’

Elam’s intellectual curiosity and desire for coaching left an impression with the Bills’ GM during the prospect’s pre-draft visit to Orchard Park.

He rattled off several insightful questions:

What has Tre White done to be so good?

What do you see in my game that you like?

What do you think I need to get better at?

“A guy that’s serious and focused and driven to be really good at his craft is what I took from it,” Beane said.

Abram Elam described his son as “a sponge,” said he instructed him to follow the advice of White and All-Pro Bills safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde because “those guys have done well in this league.”

He added that “we continue to challenge him as parents, as Shayla is always harping on continuing education, making sure he has his grades and doing things. And my thing has always been making him a better person and better individual because that stuff goes a long way.”

Kresser, who celebrated at Kaiir’s draft party, said Bills fans will likewise be thrilled with the pick.

“The people in Buffalo should be excited,” Kresser said. “They’re getting a kid that they’re not going to have to worry about. There’s no red flags. He’s not going to get in trouble. He’s going to know what he’s doing on the field. He’s going to come in and he’s going to be ready to rock and roll, Day 1, and he’ll be there for a long time. Everybody’s going to be really happy with him.”

Montinar, the cornerbacks coach at Florida last season, was on the road recruiting Thursday night, but took a moment to text his congratulations.

Kaiir wrote back: “Thank you for the development and you pouring into me so much. I got so much better mentally as a player with you being my coach. Can’t wait to get to work. I’m going to be more driven than ever. Three corners went before me. I’ll never forget that.”

Elam’s friends and family began to disperse not long after he was drafted, just after 10:30 p.m.

He had to catch a flight to Buffalo in the morning.

Kaiir shouted at Bills owner Terry Pegula over the phone: “Put the playbook on the plane! Put the playbook on the plane!”

After years of relentless grinding, proving himself and toiling in the shadow of his father and uncle, he too was an NFL player, a first-round draft pick with a clear path to a starting job for a Super Bowl favorite. It was a dream come true.

“I slept like a baby,” he said.