NFL draft profile: No. 41 — Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu, freakishly big and athletic

Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu
6-foot-4, 224 pounds

Key stat: Melifonwu measured in the 95th percentile, per mockdraftable.com, in the following categories at the NFL scouting combine — measured against defensive back results dating back to 1999: height, weight, 40-yard dash (4.40 seconds), vertical jump (44 inches) and broad jump (141 inches).

Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu turned in an eye-opening NFL combine performance. (AP)
Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu turned in an eye-opening NFL combine performance. (AP)

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The skinny: Prep running back (17 TDs, 10 two-point conversions as a senior) and DB redshirted as freshman at UConn in 2012 before stepping into starting lineup for next four seasons at free safety. Melifonwu collected 224 tackles, eight interceptions, 16 pass breakups, 11 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 48 career games. Was one of the standouts at the Senior Bowl at safety and even lined up at cornerback. Backed that up with a combine performance for the ages, and his stock has been on fire since.

Turns 23 in April.

Best-suited destination: A team such as the Seattle Seahawks, who covet big and highly athletic defensive backs perhaps even more so than other NFL teams, would make too much sense. Other teams that could place a higher value on Melifonwu’s unique traits include the Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Melifonwu also spent a week with the coaching staff of the Chicago Bears, who appeared to be impressed with his work down in Mobile.

Upside: With almost a unique combination of dimensions and athleticism, the sky is the limited. Experienced four-year starter at school that has produced five defensive backs draft picks since 2008 and coached by Bob Diaco, who had Harrison Smith at Notre Dame and put Melifonwu right up with any DB talent he ever has had. Excellent body control for how long and leggy he is. Moves gracefully but also isn’t afraid to get dirty in traffic. Has played deep safety, in the box, lined up on tight ends and at the combine did not look out of place at all in press coverage as a corner. Had 24-tackle (Tulane) and two-INT games (Temple) last season. Melifonwu’s character is considered impeccable, with one coach calling him “a dream” after talking with him in Mobile.

Downside: Despite athletic gifts and extensive starting experience, Melifonwu’s production was limited. He occasionally looked hesitant against “smash” and “dagger” concepts where safeties have to make a decisive choice and read their keys. He can take poor angles and overrun plays. Instincts still sharpening. Has requisite intelligence to absorb NFL playbook but could be challenged to apply it on the field immediately; one observer said he felt Melifonwu didn’t “trust his eyes” enough based on what he had seen of him. Is very raw as a press corner and would need to be worked in slowly there. Might be better closer to line of scrimmage than in half-field zone most of the time. First instinct is to lean downhill and can be trapped by play action.

Scouting hot take: “I though Obi was average. We threw for [a lot of yards] on them, never once thought to go away from him or anything. But I heard he had a solid year.” — opposing offensive coordinator

Player comp: It’s nearly impossible to find many apt physical comps, as few defensive backs match his height, weight, movement skills and explosion athletically. The closest we could find in recent years was former Vikings corner Chris Cook, who was the 34th pick in the 2010 draft, and former San Francisco 49ers safety Taylor Mays, who was taken 15 picks later the same year.

But Melifonwu is bigger and more explosive than Cook and a better football player than Mays. But like both, Melifonwu will have an adjustment period coming into the league, depending on which system he’s in and what position he’s asked to play. However, unlike either Cook or Mays, there are zero known character issues with Melifonwu, who is said he be a quick and willing study and a strong worker.

Frankly, this is a very difficult task, as Melifonwu doesn’t have a playing style that matches other defensive backs in 220-pound range (Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, Mark Barron, Deone Bucannon) who have come out in recent years. One safety comp we are on board with is the Chiefs’ heady and valuable No. 3 safety, Daniel Sorensen, although Melifonwu has a bigger frame and higher upside.

Addendum: Boston Globe writer Chad Finn responded to my Twitter post and came up with a great one: former New England Patriots DB Tebucky Jones — remember him? The Patriots tried to make him a corner and he eventually was moved to safety when Bill Belichick arrived. Jones’ coach before that? Pete Carroll. Now reconsider this tweet I sent after talking to people at the combine:


Expected draft range: First round, perhaps trickling into the early second.

Previous profiles

Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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