Role and expectations for Obi Melifonwu

May 5, 2017; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders safety Obi Melifonwu (20) during rookie minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2017; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders safety Obi Melifonwu (20) during rookie minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

What to expect in terms of first-year role and production for Oakland Raiders second round draft pick Obi Melifonwu.

The Oakland Raiders had a plethora of needs going in to the 2017 NFL Draft, including on every level of the defense. Particularly, following an abysmal performance from the secondary in 2016, Reggie McKenzie made fixing the issues on the back-end of the defense a priority.

When the Raiders were on the clock in the second round, with the 56th overall selection, they chose Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu.

With an elite combination of size and speed, Obi is a very unique prospect. Taking his skill-set into account, Melifonwu is a player that the team could utilize in a variety of ways. He figures to slot in at safety, but he could also play some sort of hybrid linebacker role, and he also could play cornerback in certain situations, as he experience there as well.

McKenzie spoke to that in an interview on Sirius XM:

"“He’s going to fit in multiple ways, but the bottom line is he’s a really good safety who has good tackling skills, good cover skills, and we all know about his range with his speed, and what have you, and he’s a smart player. He has a lot of positive traits that you can really do a lot of things with him, we’ll first get him acclimated with the system and then we’ll figure out how to place him in certain positions to help us win on defense.”"

So with that type of versatility, Obi has the potential to be a jack of all trades on defense. But on specific role he certainly will fill is covering tight ends. As we all know too well, the Raiders have been one of the worst teams in the league the last few seasons when it comes to covering the tight end position. According to Pro Football Reference, in 2016, the Raiders allowed 80 receptions for 1,027 yards and 7 touchdowns to opposing tight ends.

Jack Del Rio, Ken Norton Jr. and John Pagano will have the option to be creative with Obi in the mix. With Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson, they could utilize a three-safety look in certain situations. Our very own Ted Nguyen drew up a potential defensive formation we could see used this season.

As far as whether or not he will start Week 1, even though Raider Nation will surely want that to happen, it seems unlikely this will be the case. Del Rio and the coaching staff are big on rookies having to earn their stripes, and they won’t be thrown right into the fire. Instead, Obi will likely be moved along at a comfortable pace, just like Mario Edwards Jr. and Karl Joseph were.

Eventually, and perhaps sooner than later, Melifonwu will be the replacement for 33-year old veteran Reggie Nelson, who is coming off of back to back Pro Bowl seasons. As a second round pick, the expectation and hope will be that it does happen sooner than later, but it’s still wise to temper your expectations when it comes to the immediate impact he might make. Nelson seems likely to start, and the team would just ease Obi into that role, increasing his snaps and playing time as the first few weeks of the season go by.

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Even though when he’ll takeover as a starter is uncertain, one thing is clear, and that’s that Obi is far too talented and versatile to leave sitting on the bench. The sooner the Raiders are able to tap into his abilities and utilize his size and athleticism to their benefit, the better. Expect Melifonwu to mold himself into one of the more exciting players on the roster, who could develop into a major impact player in this league.