We are in the homestretch leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft. Rumors are coming from every direction at a mile a minute. Some rumors that have our attention, and some rumors that are frankly ridiculous. Either way, Thursday can't arrive soon enough where we will begin the exciting three day process and welcome the newest members to the San Francisco 49ers.
Today, we are going to return our focus on the safety position and an intriguing prospect out of Connecticut University, Obi Melifonwu. The athletic freak was a major contributor in the Huskies defense this past season, and seems ready to unleash his talents at the next level. One of the biggest risers in this year’s draft, Melifonwu was most likely unheard of last season and even for most of this season, until the draft process started turning it’s wheels. The Connecticut football team doesn't exactly get the same love as the basketball programs, and so Melifonwu has gone under the radar. However, after a strong final season at UConn and putting on a show at the NFL Combine, he has cemented himself as a late first round prospect with the arrow only pointing upwards.
What really sticks out to me about Melifonwu is his size, and his elite speed. He has the ability to play free safety with his center fielder range, and has the ability to play an aggressive and physical brand of football as a strong safety. I love his ability to get himself across the field laterally to make a play on the ball. Checks off all the physical and athletic boxes and skills scouts and evaluators seek in a safety. His strides and size give him the ability to defend against the fastest and biggest receivers. His patience and willingness to follow the quarterback’s eyes pays off as he has the ability to track the ball, and make an interception or break up a play. One of the hardest hitting safeties in this year’s draft, who finishes his tackles cleanly, especially in the open field. He had 118 tackles total this past season! When watching his film, look at the many times he is able to cleanly undercut the receiver’s route to make a play on the ball, and knock the receiver of-balance and out of the play.
Here was Obi Melifonwu’s stats for the 2016 season: 118 tackles, 4 Interceptions, 3 Passes Broken up.
Jersey Number: 20
Weight: 224 lbs.
Hands: 9 1/8”
Arm Length: 32 1/2”
40 Yard Dash: 4.40
Bench Press: 17 Reps
Vertical Jump: 44.0”
Broad Jump: 141.0”
How the measurables translate for safeties?
Information on measurables courtesy of Draft Breakdown
Drill Target Explanation
40 yd dash 4.60 Speed over distance
10 yd split 1.65 Initial quickness
225 Bench 18 Upper body strength
Vertical Jump 36″ Explosiveness
Broad Jump 10’0″ Explosiveness
20 yd shuttle 4.05 Flexibility/burst/balance
60 yd shuttle 11.2 Endurance
3 cone drill 7.10 Agility/COD
Do Your Homework
Below is a video of highlights and game film of Obi Melifonwu in action. Opponents include: Cincinnati, Virginia, Houston, South Florida, Temple, Navy, Senior Bowl Highlights (Various Opponents).
- Checks off all the physical boxes and athletic traits that are desired in a safety.
- Versatile in that he is capable of playing both free and strong safety.
- Long, rangy ability to cover a lot of the field both vertically and laterally.
- Elite speed for the position, who has a quick first step and can put himself in position to make a play on the ball.
- Consistent and strong tackler who finishes strong and cleanly. Volume tackler who had 118 this past season.
- Knows how to use his body and size to knock receivers off balance, take them out of a play, and undercut their route.
- Has the ability to remain patient, and follow the quarterback’s eyes. Strong instincts for where the play is going to happen.
- On film, Melifonwu showed the ability to use his speed to contribute in the defending the run, and in short passes along the line of scrimmage.
- Has experience playing the cornerback position, before he made the switch over to safety.
- Still developing his abilities in coverage, which at times knocks him out of position.
- While he has speed, his footwork is not always clean, and will need to continue to improve on this, especially when he needs to turn and go.
- While he has improved in his final season, Melifonwu has been vulnerable to taking penalties.
- Needs to improve his ability to run more cleanly and fluidly through his hips. This goes along with cleaning up his footwork.
Obi Melifonwu is a fun and exciting prospect to watch on film. He showed at the combine why he can be a potential physical presence on the football field, and become an absolute weapon that teams seek in their secondaries, and final line of defense. He is still cleaning up some techniques and is certainly not a polished and finished prospect, however there is certainly enough to warrant him hearing his name called as early as day 1 of the NFL Draft.
The San Francisco 49ers most likely will be addressing the safety position at some point. There are some questions with this unit, and new GM John Lynch played the position during his career in the NFL and knows what it takes to succeed at the position. What the 49ers will be getting with Melifonwu is a physical and athletic safety with size and speed who can finish tackles, and cover a lot of field both vertically and laterally. While prospects such as Malik Hooker, Jamal Adams, and Jabrill Peppers have garnered most of the national media attention, Melifonwu has quickly shown why he can make just as much of an impact for a team at the next level.
If the San Francisco 49ers hope to draft Melifonwu they may need to trade back up at the end of the first round. There is of course a chance that he drops to their 34th pick, but I don’t think this will be the case. Every year their are a small handful of prospects that get over-drafted thanks to their physicality and athleticism. Melifonwu checks off all these boxes, plus his abilities and package as a free safety has the arrow pointing up for him. Melifonwu went under the radar at Connecticut, but at the next level, I believe fans from all over will quickly get to know his name. He can be a real impact player and weapon in a team’s secondary, and will only get better as he begins his career in the NFL.
Draft Projection: 1st Round (Picks 23-32)
What are your thoughts on Obi Melifonwu? Is he a first round prospect? Do you think he will fall to the 49ers second round pick (34th)? In the 49ers defense do you see Melifonwu playing free safety or strong safety? Share in the comments below!