Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut
His last name is pronounced "Melon-FON-wuh". Born in London, but raised in Massachusetts, Melifonwu is not currently a name that the draft media is talking much about. Much of the scouting hype pre-season was for cornerback Jamar Summers. In my pre-season write up on Summers, I wrote that "Connecticut has proven to be sneaky place to find defensive backs, including Robert McClain, Darius Butler, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, and Byron Jones", but instead it is Melifonwu who is next in line of great UConn defensive backs.
After red-shirint in 2012, Melifonwu started twelve games in 2013 and has been a starter ever since, 48 career starts.
When NFL's Daniel Jeremiah asked five NFL executives which Which current senior prospect has the most upside? One said Melifonwu. "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."
Matt Miller was one of the first draft analyst to feature him when he wrote
"A true sleeper at safety, Obi Melifonwu has the intelligence, range, tackling skills and leadership to be a starter in the NFL right out of the gate. He's gaining steam on my board (Round 3) and only rising with each viewing. The Senior Bowl is a great chance for Melifonwu to showcase his ability to track the ball and play in true deep zones. An athletic freak, he has a great stage to shine in Mobile, Alabama, with all 32 teams watching his practices and play. With a big week there, look for Melifonwu to move into my top 75 or higher."
Melifonwu finished his collegiate career with a remarkable 351 tackles, 118 of which came in 2016. He also had four interceptions in 2016, bringing his career total to eight.
In his final game in college, Melifonwu finished with a remarkable 24 tackles, against Tulane.
Melifonwu is listed at 6'3 and 217 pounds. On film, he looks tall and lean with long arms. I think these numbers are pretty accurate. He is expected to run in the low 4.4s and jump over 40 inches. At the 2015 combine, former 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. That performance helped Jones break into the first round, where he was drafted #27 overall by the Cowboys.
Despite watching just under 100 college games this past fall, Connecticut was not a team I watched. I had to go to DraftBreakdown to study Melifonwu.
I watched the three cut-ups they had, but the best evidence that Melifonwu should he ranked more highly comes from the Temple game. Against Temple, he had a pair of picks - seen here.
Each of the two interceptions a result of jumping the route of the intended receiver on end zone targets that looked like potential touchdown throws, reacting quickly and positioning his big frame in front of the receiver.
In his Senior Bowl Preview, DraftAnalyst's Tony Pauline wrote Melifonwu "gets a rap from scouts for being soft as they feel he’s not always willing to stick his pads into the pile." That helps explain Pauline's 5/6th round grade. CBS Sports ranked him only slightly better, giving him only a 4th/5th round grade.
Then, Melifonwu was one of the "winners" at the Senior Bowl weigh in, after he measured in at 6-4 and 219 pounds, which is one inch taller and two pounds heavier than his school bio.
After just two days, NFL Networks' lead draft analyst, Mike Mayock had great things to say :
He's got outstanding range, making up so much distance in a hurry. Bob Diaco, the coach at UConn the past three years, said Melifonwu has more ability than any safety he's ever coached, and that includes Harrison Smith, the all-pro player for the Minnesota Vikings whom Diaco coached at Notre Dame. He's a matchup chess piece with movement skills. If Greg Olsen comes to town, you say, "That's your guy." The next week a wide receiver like Mike Evans comes to town, you say, "Go get him." I thought Melifonwu had an outstanding practice session on Wednesday.
Melifonwu is a four year starter and has some pretty good film. He is expected to be one of the more impressive athletes at the NFL Combine, and has one of the highest GPAs on the team. He has the versatility to play free or strong safety, or line up in the slot. UConn frequently uses split safeties, and Melifonwu looks like he can play some single-high as well.
This is a really impressive safety class overall, but Melifonwu is without doubt a name to monitor. I was admittedly late to the party, but after getting caught up, it looks as if Melifonwu is going to make a meteoric rise up the rankings, and could be in play when the Panthers pick at #40.