First of all, thanks to contributor ‘McGruff’ for the heads up on this guy. He was recently name-checked in one of Daniel Jeremiah’s ‘Ask 5’ articles on NFL.com. In this particular piece, Jeremiah asked five different executives to name the college prospect they believed had the most upside. He was looking for a lesser known player.
One executive suggested Obi Melifonwu, a safety from Connecticut:
“The UConn safety is really intriguing. He’s freaky athletic and he’s going to put up big-time testing numbers. He’ll run low 4.4s (in the 40-yard dash) and jump over 40 inches. He can play in the slot as well. Huge upside.”
I hadn’t come across Melifonwu unlike the other names mentioned (Bucky Hodges, Seth Russell, Daeshon Hall, Travis Dural). Having seen the other four — none really jump off the screen. There’s certainly some potential with Hall’s frame and pass-rushing ability and Hodges is another big-bodied TE (a jump-ball 1v1 specialist rather than a separation guy).
Melifonwu was intriguing though. A 6-3, 220lbs safety that runs a 4.4 and jumps 40 inches?
At the 2015 combine, UConn safety Byron Jones broke a 46-year-old broad jump world record (12-3). He also had a 44.5 inch vertical and at his pro-day, reportedly ran in the 4.36-4.39 range.
Jones was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys with the #27 overall pick.
So how do the two players compare? Here’s the UConn Head Coach Bob Diaco:
“Obi’s the best safety in America”
That’s possibly hyperbolic considering Jabrill Peppers is going to be on the final list of Heisman candidates and the depth at safety across the board has arguably never been stronger. We could see five or six safety’s drafted in the first round in 2017 — and that’s no exaggeration.
That said, none of the group look anything like Melifonwu. There aren’t many humans in the world capable of running a 4.40 forty and jumping +40 inches at 6-3 and 220lbs. If his work out is even remotely close to Jones (listed at 6-1 and 199lbs at his combine) — then there’s a chance he could be one of the big risers over the coming months.
Diaco is clearly very positive about Melifonwu. Only last week he offered another gushing assessment — stopping himself at one point from comparing him to a big name currently in the NFL:
As we’re all aware, there’s only one really fantastic safety in the league listed at around 6-3 and 220lbs.
If Diaco was referring to Kam Chancellor in the video above — it’s important to add one disclaimer. Chancellor’s success isn’t just down to his combination of size and athleticism. It’s a mental thing too. His attitude, his ability to lead, his personality. He’s a person people naturally gravitate towards. That’s not something you can teach. It’s either in you or it isn’t. It’s a stretch to think Melifonwu can provide those same benefits because in all honesty, Kam’s probably one of a very small group capable of achieving it.
Volume 12 mentioned in the comments section recently that Kam is Seattle’s Ray Lewis. He’s right. It’s that level of intensity, personality and leadership. Those types of players are extremely rare. They’re generational.
Not only that, Kam has also mastered Seattle’s defense and seems to be the one orchestrating the checks, lining everyone up and taking control of the situation. Again, that’s not always a role left to the strong safety. There’s a reason why the Seahawks turn to Kam. He’s a student of the game at the next level — and while many college players reference a similar work ethic, it’s easier said than done when you start facing the complexities of a pro-offense.
So let’s just accept from the top — Melifonwu is unlikely to be the second coming of Kam. Who is ever going to achieve that? What he can offer a team — including the Seahawks — is still extremely useful.
I watched the 2016 Virginia vs UConn game (see below) to see what he offers. Usually I wouldn’t pass judgement until after watching three games — but I’m not anticipating a ton of UConn tape hitting the internet any time soon.
Melifonwu lines up in several very intriguing looks. He’s the deep safety on some snaps, he lines up in the slot covering wide receivers, he’ll blitz off the edge on occasions and he’ll sit at the second level in a ‘deathbacker’ style position.
The thing that leaps off the tape is his range, closing speed and wrap-up tackling ability. On one play (5:40) he is the single high safety and breaks up a deep ball to the right sideline with a jarring hit. His ability to read the play, make up ground and force an incompletion (with a bit of physicality thrown in) is Earl Thomas-esque.
He did a great job in coverage on one throw over the middle (1:49). The play was flagged but it looked like a textbook piece of coverage. He was working against the slot option (looked like a big WR but could’ve been a TE) and was flagged for PI — but it looked like a bad call.
As noted his tackling form was solid throughout — he generally wrapped up and completed every tackle he was required to make. One of his assets is the ability to sift through traffic and deliver a big hit. Look at the way he moves through a crowd to hammer the running back at 4:19. He’s lined up at safety and sprints 15-yards to hit the ball carrier for no gain. This is a fantastic play — thoroughly showing off his read/react qualities, his range and speed plus his ability to form-tackle.
On this evidence he has the versatility to play free or strong safety, line up vs TE’s in the slot, possibly play some outside corner and provide an option at deathbacker or SAM.
He has four interceptions this season, 94 tackles and two TFL’s.
This is a really impressive safety class overall — but Melifonwu is without doubt a name to monitor. Byron Jones’ workout for the ages only helped him become the #27 overall pick — so even if Melifonwu has a similar combine performance, he won’t necessarily leap into the top-20.
The 2017 draft class is really starting to look very interesting. Players like Takk McKinley, Garett Bolles and Obi Melifonwu are providing genuine freaky athleticism to a big-name group of prospects. Exciting times.