The Buffalo Bills’ need at safety is well documented, and chances are, they’ll select one relatively early in the 2017 NFL Draft. We’ve already scouted two safety prospects, Malik Hooker and Eddie Jackson.
Let’s closely examine at unique safety prospect Obi Melifonwu.
Born April 5, 1994 — which makes him somewhat of an “older” prospect, a slight but necessary ding — Melifonwu was a three-star recruit after a strong high-school career in Massachusetts. He was a long and triple jumper on the track team and redshirted during his freshman year at UConn.
Melifonwu is my pick to be one of the participants who “blows up” the combine in a few weeks. He measured in at an even 6’4” and 219 pounds at the Senior Bowl, which is gargantuan size for a safety. Media members on hand raved about his chiseled frame. On film, Melifonwu moves like he’s 6’1”, 200. Minimal stiffness. Explosive burst. Adequately fluid lateral agility. Impressive straight-line speed. Out of nowhere, UConn sends premier athletes to the NFL (check the combine workouts of Byron Jones, Kendall Reyes, Geremy Davis, Donald Brown etc. Remember, Marcus Easley had quite the combine workout too.) Melifonwu truly stands out as a tremendous athlete among an assortment great athletes.
Melifonwu is a sound run-stopping safety. While there are a few hiccups in which he either throttles down a bit too much to avoid overrunning the play or simply misses the tackle (which happens with every safety), he utilizes his quick play-recognition skills, natural speed, and length to make impact plays against the run.
Here’s an example of all of those positive characteristics in one play:
Melifonwu slipped between blockers, turned on the jets, and wrapped up extremely well. Watch it again, and concentrate on the beginning of the play. You’ll notice Melifonwu’s as the third defender to diagnose the sweep play to the right side of the offensive formation — after the linebackers — but his burst is significantly better than all the other UConn defenders.
Here’s another play that showcases his speed recognizing a play and running toward the football.
Now for the bad. No prospect is perfect.
Though technically a pass, let’s categorize this as an extension of Houston’s run game (most NFL teams have these screens built into their offense).
Melifonwu was a split second behind here, which led to a late fill. It gave the Houston receiver space to toward the boundary to slip off his tackle attempt.
After getting a steady diet of those screens all game, Melifonwu adjusted and was quicker to the running lane late in the fourth quarter to make an impact stop in space.
Against South Florida, Melifonwu missed a tackle on a diving attempt early, yet displayed his entire run-stopping arsenal on this thud near the line of scrimmage.
The tackle was on Marlon Mack, one of the shiftiest, most explosive (and underrated) running backs in this loaded draft class at that position.
At his size, with his speed, and refined recognition, Melifonwu brings everything to the field you’d want from your safety in run support. Yes, there’ll be some whiffed tackles, but his speed and length will allow him to also make plays of which most safeties aren’t capable.
While at UConn, Melifonwu was primarily used as a member of a two-deep safety look who took on slot coverage responsibilities when he wasn’t dropping into his deep half of a field.
Though a seemingly simple play, check Melifonwu’s plant, drive, and powerful tackle here. This type of play happened often.
Occasionally, he played deep center field in Cover 1 and Cover 3 looks. Though Melifonwu seems more comfortable either in man coverage or as part of the aforementioned two-deep alignment, his speed and length are the ingredients for immense range.
Check the ground he covered on his pass breakup down the field.
He inadvertently laid the lumber on his teammate as the receiver dove toward the ground, but Melifonwu’s closing speed was exceptional.
While not the greatest throw from the South Florida quarterback, on this play, Melifonwu made an effortless interception ranging from the deep middle toward the sideline.
He’s not supersized Earl Thomas on every deep shot though.
In the same game, Melifonwu got caught flat-footed analyzing the receivers’ route combination, which led to one getting a step on him.
What is good here — Melifonwu’s length possibly helped with the incompletion, as he was able to subtly get his arm on the wideout at the catch point.
As shown above, Melifonwu has fine ball skills. He doesn’t have any major issues locating the football in the air and making a play on it.
These are two of his four interceptions from 2016. Notice how much his speed helps him on both plays.
On this pick — which certainly was helped by a late throw — Melifonwu was able to make the hands catch away from his body with ease and secure it in traffic.
The second interception could been included in the pass-coverage subheading.
Melifonwu didn’t stay with the tight end for the entire route but, again, the safety’s speed let him close rapidly on what seemed like an open throwing lane to snag the interception.
The team that picks Melifonwu won’t take him because of his film playing centerfield or ball skills, but he undoubtedly has the talent to be a productive player in the NFL if asked to play that position and use his range to make plays in the passing game.
Melifonwu is a large, strong, and athletic safety prospect who’s super experienced — he played in 48 games at UConn. Best in the box, as a “robber”, or in two-deep safety looks, Melifonwu does have natural ball skills and range in coverage. He’s essentially a hybrid safety — part strong safety, part free safety. The Huskies star possesses the quickness and speed to run with tight ends down the seam, and is twitchy enough to attack receivers on short passes. His presence felt the most thumping against the run, although some missed tackles happen, and he’s not a block-shedder. He may have benefited from being a 22-year-old playing college football in 2016, but he was productive his entire career at UConn. Melifonwu’s athletic gifts, versatility, and polished play-recognition skills make him one of the best safeties — and definitely the most unique — in the 2017 draft class. After the combine, I believe he’ll get some Round 1 consideration, which, to me, he’ll deserve. Although he’s not exactly a prototypical free safety for Sean McDermott’s base Cover 1 and Cover 3 nor a weakside linebacker, the Bills very well could have their sights set on Melifonwu to play multiple positions and add an electric size, speed, and athletic specimen to their defense that calls for those type of players.