UConn’s Obi Melifonwu is a name to monitor

Obi Melifonwu — great tackling form, fantastic range, big frame

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.


  1. Volume12

    I like this guy. Very impressive.

    There’s another big safety I like from Arkansas St, Seattle has scouted them a couple times this year and I got to watch 2 of his games against Utah St. and Troy.

    Cody ‘Hitman’ Brown- 6’1-6’2, 208-210 lbs. Probably not the athlete Obi is, but another safety that has great range, explosive closing speed, and man does this guy set the tone for that team. Also a former JUCO product.

    Here’s a little sample.


    • sdcoug

      Have you looked at Shalom Luani? any thoughts? Lynchpin of wazzu’s D. What intrigues me is the versatility. FS, nickle/LB, can rush the QB, obviously good in coverage, good speed. 6’0, 204. Maybe not the biggest guy, but he can hit and get to the ball. Seeing Earl sidelined makes me like Luani even more

      • Volume12

        Yeah, you know I have. We’ve talked about him before.

        I agree about his versatility. I see a mixture of Jabril Peppers and Chidobe Awuzie. He’s gonna be a steal for someone.

        • Volume12

          I also think QB Luke Falk and Wyoming QB Josh Allen might be the 2 steals at the QB position.

          • Kenny Sloth

            Rob and I watched a few snaps of Luke Falk while he was up here.

            He kind of is really thin and doesn’t really make up for it with his arm.

            Just as Rob was saying he floated passes, he throws one into double coverage and it’s easily batted.

            That’s a pick at the next level.

            • Volume12

              He’s definetly got some things to work and may be better off returning for his senior season. But, I love that kids toughness and his touch is incredible.

          • TannerM

            Allen’s only a redshirt sophomore, so he might not be coming out anytime soon. A couple of years and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the first round conversation.

      • Coleslaw

        Sounds like Su’a Cravens.

    • McGruff

      I like the highlight reel. He’s obviously bigger than Earl, but I see a lot of Earl in his style. Looks rangy on film, and comes out of nowhere to make plays. Appears instinctI’ve anticipating the play. He’s a hitter, not a tackler . . . Like Earl. What strikes me most is the passion he plays with.

    • D-OZ

      He’s a ball-hawk with very good burst. Like him a lot.

      • D-OZ


  2. red

    A lot of DBs in this draft I think we pick a couple we like and see who slides to the 3rd or 4TH rounds.

  3. Seahawcrates

    A really interesting position for Seattle to draft. Nobody has a better tandem in the NFL so when does Seattle start drafting their potential replacements? I imagine the next two weeks give them an opportunity to closely evaluate Terrell. Don’t want to draft high and have the guy sit for long.
    Amazing recent talent haul by Seattle. Rawls, Procise, Lockett, Clark, Reed, Ifedi, Glowinski, Fant, (perhaps Odhambo, nearly an entire line!). May be a defensive focused draft. Exciting stuff ahead!

    • C-Dog

      I could see Seattle focus on the defense this draft. If there’s not too many glaring needs on this team at the end of the season, I can see that first pick be a bit of a luxury player, almost BPA regardless of position outside of QB.

      • RealRhino2

        Agree. Last year was almost all about the offense. I think this year might see us focus on the defense to line up some backups/replacements for key areas. A bigger DE to Bennett’s shoes, rushing outside when MB moves inside. A SAM linebacker to help in the run game. Another corner to add to the LOB.

        • C-Dog

          Seems to be the draft to add corner. I agree about SAM. Q Jeff might have been drafted to fill that Mike B role, although he looks more DT to me than DE.

        • Rob Staton

          They might look to add a SAM — but it also appears to be a position they are not overly concerned with. It’s a two-down position at best. If they take a SAM it’s likely to be a SAM/LEO — someone who can stay on the field in different scenarios.

          • Ground_Hawk

            Vanderbilt’s Cunningham looks like he could grow into that type of role, once he starts adding NFL muscle. I’m looking forward to seeing his combine results, if he decides to declare. After watching some of Obi’s tap above, I think that he shares that playmaking ability that I’ve seen in Cunningham, and he also looks like he has more bulk than Cunningham. He’ll be a fun player to watch out for. Thanks for the work Rob and McGruff!

  4. C-Dog

    I wonder with Melifonwu, if they did take him, at 6-3 220lbs, they sort of allow him to be the swiss army knife of the LOB in the way in which they had Shead doing that for a few years. Learn all 4 positions, and when a starting spot opens up, for sake of argument left corner, have him take it over. Is this a crazy thought?

    • Trevor

      Really like the idea of him being able to play more than one spot given that the LOB are all getting older. If he really is that athletic maybe he becomes that deathbacker Rob has discussed.

    • RealRhino2

      Yes. No way that guy looks like an outsider corner. He looks like an in the box safety to me.

      • C-Dog

        That’s what I’m thinking, just wonder if that athleticism could lend to him developing outside.

  5. Kenny Sloth

    At least it seems like someone sees the same things in Seth Russell as I do.

  6. RWIII

    Rob: If Melifonwu is as good as you say he is. Then he will be long gone when John Schneider & Co. are on the clock.

    • Rob Staton

      Possibly — but Byron Jones lasted until the #27 overall pick.

  7. C-Dog

    For all those who were clamoring for Robert Nkemdiche, looks like Bruce Arians and the Cardinals might be having some buyers remorse drafting him R1. A number of analysts thought PC would’ve coveted him. I wasn’t buying it. Personally, the idea of taking him R1 scared the poop out of me last year.


  8. CharlieTheUnicorn

    The funny thing occurred to me a few days ago. As we are well aware, the starting safeties in Seattle are exceptional. The back-up are not. Seattle made due with back-ups for multiple weeks at SS and now will have to go 1-2 weeks without their FS. The player pointed out in this piece could possibly fit both roles. Obi Melifonwu could fit into what Seattle already has… and provide some depth from day #1.

    The ability to match-up and play TE and big WR in the slot would also be a bonus. Could this player play big nickle spot, when the team goes to 2 LB and 5 DBs ? How doe she hold up verse the rush??

    I’m of the opinion that Seattle will go defense in this draft…. S (FS or SS) and OLB were my top priorities. Shockingly *sarcasm* the needs of Seattle line up with the 2017 draft strengths… JS/PC are on their draft / team building game year in and year out.

  9. Josh emmett

    They need a NT!!!! The Hawks have been trying this and trying that to replace Mebane and nothing has worked yet. Obviously they are not in dire straights as they rank 3rd against the run but I feel like the Hawks have 2 awesome 3 techs in Tuba and McDaniel. Reed has played well but I see him as a 3 tech not a nose and will more then likely take Rubin’s spot in the near future. They have tried Siliga and now Jenkins but none of them have been the double team eater like Mebane. I think they look for a linebacker and nose tackle for immediate needs. Maybe a kicker? Obviously not in the early rounds but number 4 has not been automatic like we are used to and he is up for contract and will command top money for a kicker I would think.

    • C-Dog

      I agree that Reed might end up being more 3 tech in the base than nose. Been considering a player like Elijah Qualls or Ryan Glasgow in R3 or R4 might be a target if they don’t go DL early.

    • Volume12

      He’s missed 2 kicks all year. And every K is now missing a few XP’s because of the new rule.

  10. Darnell

    He actually reminds me a bit of Harrison Smith, though he’ll probably test better.

    Indecently, Smith is someone that Diaco would be very very familiar with.

  11. C-Dog

    Seattle isn’t afraid to take a freak athlete early if they feel confident they have a special niche for him (See: Bruce Irvin). If they feel Melifonwu can add a uniqueness to the defense, either as a death backer handling tight ends, maybe even some SAM, also giving them flexibility in the event either Kam or Earl get injured (which has both happened this year), I can see this making sense. They tried converting Eric Pinkins to SAM, so there is some precedent there in terms of the athlete they’d like to find. I think they want a bonafide athlete there. So it may not be too crazy to suggest the Melifonwu could end up being a linebacker for the team, and they don’t have to shift into nickel so much.

    I’m also thinking that they might look to target WR early again, and R2 seems a spot in the draft they are comfortable taking one. I’m sure they are more than happy with Baldwin and Lockett. P Rich has yet to live up to his high draft status (although the season isn’t over yet), and Kearse has been in a funk for a few games now. They could take a liking to a guy like Cooper Kupp.

    Derrick Nnadi has the squat base that Mebane had and he’s active for a nose tackle. If they decide Jarran Reed is more a 3 tech, I like them to go after a 1 tech whole can be active and win the leverage battles.

    Depending on how the rest of the season shakes out, I couldn’t be surprised if this year’s draft is more about the defense, adding DB, DL, and LB, looking for value in players with special traits, while still probably adding to the OL, and probably getting another RB.

    29: R1P29

    61: R2P29

    93: R3P29

    135: R4P32

    207: R6P28

    214: R6P35

    226: R7P8

    • Rob Staton

      Looking at the overall quality of the draft class — I think it’ll take something special for Cooper Kupp to get into round two. He’d have to destroy the combine (not overly convinced he will). I also think Nnandi has a chance to go top-45.

      • C-Dog

        Happy Turkey Football Day, Rob!

        Just a couple questions;

        Do you see as potential Melifonwu as top 45 talent, as well? Or someone who could rise to the middle rounds give his athletic profile?

        Also, if Seattle wants to add to the offense early, doesn’t see the athlete they like on the OL, or RB there, do you think they maybe spend that first pick on a guy like Corey Davis, if available, to upgrade split end?

        • Rob Staton

          If he tests as well as suggested by his coach — he could easily crack the top-45 if not R1.

          I’ve watched two W. Michigan games and have to say I didn’t see anything spectacular in Corey Davis. Nice, consistent player but the Seahawks shoot for major upside/athleticism in R1 and I’m not convinced that’s Davis. If they take a receiver early it’s going to have to be someone with a really freaky skill set.

          • C-Dog

            Do you feel there is a WR out there this year with that special skill set?

            I see John Ross, but I wonder if Seattle wants to look for size. Could Evan Engram play receiver?

            • Rob Staton

              I could see them liking Ross. Exceptional speed and savvy. Touchdown maker. Will run a 4.3 probably. They liked Percy so might like Curtis Samuel. I think they’ll like the all-round game of Jehu Chesson.

    • Ukhawk

      Sorry but Rob already sold me on Bolles. Id get on the Obi in R2 train though

      • C-Dog

        I think everyone is sold on Bolles. Just sort of feel that if he declares, the chances of him being available bottom end of R1 are probably pretty slim.

  12. Ishmael

    Colour me interested. I’ll back these coaches to get the most out of any DB prospect. I was talking about a deathbacker the other week, but I’d really just love to see another playmaker out there.

  13. McGruff

    Thanks for the credit, Rob. I was just going through draft breakdown looking at bigger safeties when I came across this guy. Most were pretty average. They either lacked range, we’re slow to react, or tackled poorly. This guy leaped off the screen. Back in the day I liked Earl over Berry because Earl let off the screen. Same with Kam over Taylor Mays. I haven’t seriously scouted safeties in a few years, just because we are so set there, but injuries and age will catch us sooner than later, and as others have mentioned there is are role on this team for a third safety.

  14. Ukhawk

    Nice work Rob & McGruff,

    What a gem! Finally a prospect who can be who fits the physical profile & can be groomed at SS/Deathbacker.

  15. red

    I wonder how Obi tests compare to Tyvis Powell who ran a 4.46 with 35 inch vertical at 6’3 211. Not sure Obi sparq would be to much higher then Tyvis Powell Sparq scores.

    Rob any thoughts on Jarron Jones DT 6’5 315 from Notre Dame saw film from 2014 from draft breakdown strong guy tore his MCL in 2015 missed season. I like this guy as a Tony McDaniel replacement. Also anything on De’veon Smith RB Michigan 5’11 228 he caught my eye during the UI game kind of north south down hill runner, but I like his vision not sure in zone scheme.

    • WALL UP

      I hope they get Jarron Jones as well for their 2nd pick for the same reason. What about D’Onta Foreman?

    • McGruff

      I think Obi plays more instinctual ly than Powell. They may have similar athleticism, but obi looks like he takes advantage of it better.

  16. LeoSharp

    Caleb Brantley DT 6’2 314 looks like a great interior rusher and solid run defender. Similar to Jordan hill and currently plays as an every down player so could be a building block for the future. Projected in the first two rounds a small trade down may possible given his lack of sacks and scheme limitation

    • Rob Staton

      He’s a decent player. Might translate to the next level. Interesting for sure. He has impacted a couple of games in a big way. That said — he only has 6.5 TFL’s this year and three of those came in one game. Only 1.5 sacks. And he plays on a loaded Florida defense too. So you’d like to see a bit more production. More of a run defender than a pass rusher and that limits his value (and makes him a bit too similar to Jarran Reed perhaps). Motor runs a bit hot and cold too.

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