Even before he jumped out of the gym, Connecticut’s Obi Melifonwu was already turning some heads with his play. His athleticism on tape was not only apparent during every snap, it dominated your viewing. The out-of-his-mind measurements folks were predicting prior to the NFL Combine were somehow exceeded, and Melifonwu ended up measuring out as one of the best defensive backs of the last two decades. Until his Pro Day, he sat atop the Relative Athletic Score rankings for strong safety and cornerback, even besting former Uconn corner Byron Jones, who set a world record with his broad jump. Melifonwu met with the Detroit Lions at the Senior Bowl, at the combine, and again at his pro day, so the interest is very real.
Though his unofficial cone time from his Pro Day was below average, when you consider Melifonwu’s elite size at his position and the fact his more important short shuttle still ended up in elite range, you can see just how incredibly athletic he is. He set a record at his position for both vertical and broad jump (Byron Jones measured as a cornerback) while his 4.4 flat is nearly unheard of for a player his size on the defensive side of the ball. We could talk about his athleticism all day, but when you boil it down to its most basic level, he’s probably the best pure athlete on any football field he steps on. Even in the NFL.
Picking off a career-high four passes in 2016, Melifonwu racked up an impressive 118 total tackles his senior year at UConn. That was an improvement from 88 the previous year, 75 as a sophomore, and 68 as a true freshman. The guy has been productive is what I’m saying, and he improved every year he played. Posting a career 11 sacks as a safety is impressive as well, though it’s worth noting that he only had 16 pass deflections in his entire college career. That’s not a very high number, considering how often he was around the ball.
If the Lions want to take a risk on a superb athlete like Melifonwu, they’ll need to spend at least their 21st overall pick on him. He isn’t going to fall much further than that and certainly won’t be available when the Lions pick next at 53rd overall. If taken, it’s more of a move for the future of the team than it is for 2017. I doubt he’d get much play at strong safety with Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew likely to dominate those snaps, while free safety is still owned by Glover Quin until his contract is up next season. There’s no shame in learning from one of the best, though, and if they view Obi Melifonwu as a true free safety, he’ll have a great tutor. Though we’ve spoken before about the possibility of teams viewing him as a corner, and some teams have, the Detroit Lions have indicated they view him solely as a safety, so that’s his projection in Detroit.