Cleveland Elam, an extraordinarily talented defensive lineman whose promising career was cut short by knee injuries, has died at the age of 60.
The 49ers, who took Elam out of Tennessee State in the fourth round of the 1975 NFL draft, announced Elam’s death today. No cause of death has been released.
In 1976 Elam had a team-high 17.5 sacks (which weren’t yet considered an official NFL statistic), earning the first of his two consecutive Pro Bowl selections. But just as he was beginning to emerge as one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL, Elam suffered a severe knee injury in 1978 and started only four games. He left San Francisco after that season and played just one more season, with the Lions in 1979, before retiring.
A great 1976 highlight of Elam scooping up a Joe Namath fumble and running it into the end zone, then sacking Richard Todd after Namath was knocked out of the game, is here.