Now that Obi Melifonwu has signed his contract, we can only get fired up about what he’ll do in the Raiders’ secondary. He was a steal in the second round.
When the Oakland Raiders drafted UConn Huskies safety Obi Melifonwu with the No. 56 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Raider Nation had to be amped about getting a player of his caliber in the second round.
Melifonwu may have played for a lackluster Group of 5 football program in Connecticut, but don’t be surprised if he is the best rookie of the entire Raiders’ 2017 class. After redshirting in 2012 for the Huskies, Melifonwu would play the next four years magnificently mostly for Bob Diaco.
Diaco may have only lasted three years on the UConn job, but was able to send two outstanding defensive back prospects to the NFL: cornerback Byron Jones to the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 and Melifonwu to the Raiders this year. Look for Diaco to churn out more defensive back talent as the new defensive coordinator for Mike Riley’s Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big Ten.
For those that don’t watch a ton of AAC football, Melifonwu finished up in Storrs with 349 career tackles, 11.0 for a loss of yardage, 16 passes defended and eight interceptions. Though he played for a sub-.500 team, Melifonwu really made a name for himself in college.
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After an outstanding week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, Melifonwu saw his stock rise to even a being a late first-rounder.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t go with outside linebacker T.J. Watt at No. 30, it might have been Melifonwu.
He was that impressive at the Senior Bowl and in the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. It was strange to see him fall all the way to Oakland at No. 56.
To be fair, it is hard to evaluate what a safety does in Senior Bowl practice more than anything. For him to stand out in Mobile was most intriguing. He displayed great ball skills and an awareness for the position beyond his years.
Melifonwu wasn’t afraid to lay down the hammer in the middle of a field to break up passes or stop a score. He could play free or strong safety at a high level professionally depending on the scheme he is in.
Some in Raider Nation may have questioned why general manager Reggie McKenzie would double-dip in the secondary atop the 2017 NFL Draft. Oakland already took Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley at No. 24 overall. Buckeyes defensive backs are usually ready to compete for playing time Day 1 in the NFL.
However, the Raiders will need to get better in pass defense to really contend for a Super Bowl. Perhaps two high-end players like Conley and Melifonwu motivate each other in the coming years? If that’s the case, Oakland are about to be stacked in the secondary to close out the decade.
In short, Melifonwu might be labeled as a safety, but is a versatile defensive back above all. He will make an impact as a rookie. Being 23 years old already only helps his student mentality for the game of football.
It’s that combination of athletic traits and football IQ that could make Melifonwu a special player in the Raiders defense going forward. His rookie year should be one of great optimism for the Silver and Black.