Plays the ball well to avoid penalties and smack passes away
Not a gambler
Reads the quarterback's eyes
Fast firing to flat or coming downhill
Can be a strong safety, eighth man in the box
Tough run defender
Size to tackle NFL running backs
Special teams coverage potential
Should be able to contribute quickly
Huge athletic upside
Hasn't seen certain route combinations yet
Can tackle too high at times
Has some rawness
Summary: Every year, the NFL Draft always has some good players who rise and become great values in their pro careers relative to where they were drafted. Melifonwu could be one of those value picks in the 2017 NFL Draft as he has a serious combination of size, speed, and athletic upside for the next level. For months, sources with teams have said that Melifonwu is going to be a star at the combine and during the pre-draft workouts. He is not just a workout warrior; however, as he had impressive play at Connecticut before being one of the standouts of the Senior Bowl.
Melifonwu broke onto the field as a redshirt freshman with 70 tackles and two interceptions. He followed that up with 75 tackles in 2013. As a junior, Melifonwu had 88 tackles with two interceptions and five passes broken up. Melifonwu had his best season in 2016. The senior totaled 118 tackles with three passes broken up and four interceptions on the year.
In pass coverage, Melifonwu is a good defender. He covers a lot of ground in the deep part of the field, yet has the size to battle big wideouts and tight ends. Melifonwu could be the single-high deep safety who uses his speed to cover a lot of ground in the deep part of the field. His size would come in handy to knock away jump balls deep down the field. With Melifonwu's size and speed, he could be a real weapon to help neutralize pass-catching tight ends who create mismatch problems for most teams down the middle seam. While Melifonwu is tall, he isn't stiff and shows the flexibility to turn and run. He also showed some ball skills to slap passes away or catch them to create turnovers.
At times in college and at the Senior Bowl, Melifonwu showed some impressive man-coverage skills to blanket receivers. It makes him even more valuable as he could chip in at cornerback in an injury emergency or if his team needed him to play some press man on a big wide receiver.
For run defense, Melifonwu is a dependable tackler who shows a great burst to fire into the gap or downhill to take down a running back. He has the size and strength to take on NFL ball-carriers. Melifonwu is physical and packs a punch on running backs. With his size and instincts, Melifonwu could be a strong safety type who plays as the eighth man in the box to defend ground games.
Melifonwu is sufficiently flexible to play strong or free safety in the NFL. It is interesting to hear as some team sources think he would be best as a deep rangy free safety to run and cover the deep part of the field. Others think that Melifonwu could fit well as a strong safety who walks down in the box. That speaks to his well-rounded skill set and versatility as a player.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, Melifonwu could be a late first-round or second-round pick. He is the rare safety prospect who could be a versatile starter as a free or strong safety. Melifonwu could rise throughout the leadup to the 2017 NFL Draft, and it wouldn't be surprising if he ends up turning into a good NFL starter with Pro Bowl potential given his athletic upside.
Player Comparison: Kam Chancellor. Chancellor could be the closest comparison to Melifonwu in the NFL. Chancellor (6-3, 225) is almost identical in size with the ability to contribute in the ground game and pass coverage. They have some differences in terms of how they could be used, but it wouldn't surprise me if Melifonwu is a very good pro safety like Chancellor.
NFL Matches: Tampa Bay, Houston, Seattle, Buffalo, Atlanta, New England, Carolina, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh
There are a lot of potential fits for Melifonwu late in the first round and early in the second round. The Jaguars, Chargers, Panthers, Bengals and Bills all have top-10 selections and could use a safety. Melifonwu won't go that high, but at least three of those teams could be targeting a safety in Round 2 - assuming that Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker go as top-10 picks.
Jacksonville could lose Jonathan Cyprien in free agency, and that would open up a need for a safety. The Chargers need a true replacement for Eric Weddle, and if they don't take a safety in the first round, Melifonwu would be a good fit in Round 2. Carolina needs a safety upgrade, and the Bengals really missed not having Reggie Nelson last year. Buffalo has a need at safety as Aaron Williams has an uncertain future with a neck injury, and the team could look for an upgrade over Corey Graham. Melifonwu could be in play for the Bills' second-round pick.
Tampa Bay needs an upgrade at safety, and Melifonwu would make sense for the team's second-round pick. Cleveland needs improved safety play, and Melifonwu would make sense for one of the Browns' second-round picks.
Late in the first round, the Texans could give consideration to drafting a safety, especially if Quintin Demps isn't re-signed. The Steelers could use a safety to pair with Sean Davis, and Melifonwu could give them a gifted young tandem.
Both Super Bowl participants could consider Melifonwu late in Round 1. Atlanta could use a free safety to pair with strong safety Keanu Neal, so Melifonwu could be in play for the Falcons' first-round pick. New England could use an upgrade over Patrick Chung, and Melifonwu would provide that to the Patriots.
Sources say the Seahawks love Melifonwu. Earl Thomas has made some noise about retirement, and Seattle could get younger and cheaper with Melifonwu. He would be a great scheme fit for the Seahawks.