The Raiders selected Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu in the second round of the recent NFL Draft, but they’re as high on him as any first-round pick.
In fact, the 6-foot-4-inch, 224-pounder is seen as an extreme-value second-round selection.
Melifonwu’s size and speed are terrific for his position, says NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock.
“Now we’re getting into the freak zone,” Mayock wrote after the Raiders chose Melifonwu. “He’s a genetic freak. I thought his tape was really solid. What I like is he’s a matchup player. … His movement skills for his length, his ability to get in and out of breaks, his tackling, he’s got first-round talent all day long.”
Melifonwu, who played both strong and free safety for the Huskies, isn’t quite sure where he fits yet in the Oakland defense.
“They haven’t really spoken to me on it yet,” Melifonwu said in an an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I think they know I’m a guy that can play a lot of different positions, so I’m just looking forward to seeing what position they actually have chosen for me to try out and actually play.”
Some have compared Melifonwu to Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor in build and style of play, a big, physical safety who can be a force against the run or passing game.
At this past weekend’s rookie minicamp, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio singled out Melifonwu as a player he and his coaching staff are eager to add to the defense – wherever that may be.
“He’s very gifted,” Del Rio told the media. “He has a good head on his shoulders. He comes in and he’s just trying to soak up our system right now. Athletically, he’s very blessed. He has highway speed that you look for. Athleticism, changing direction and then he’ll come up and hit you. We like the tape. We think he’s a good football player and we’re happy to start working with him.”
Some Raiders observers, including Mario Tover of the Fansided site Just Blog Baby, already are wondering if Melifonwu might replace veteran free safety Reggie Nelson this season and play along young Karl Joseph, the second-year strong safety.
As he points out, Nelson will be 34 by the start of the regular season and – even though Nelson was a Pro Bowl pick in 2016 – had his weaknesses, particularly on deep coverage.
For now, Melifonwu isn’t worried about that. It’s possible he could be a jack-of-all-trades as a rookie, filing in for Nelson and Joseph, working on special teams and playing in certain situations.
“I really don’t feel more or less comfortable (at free or strong safety),” Melifonwu said in the SiriusXM interview. “My first three years at the University of Connecticut I played free safety and last year I played a little bit of both, free and strong, but I played majority strong, so I really don’t have a preference and I don’t necessarily feel a strength or weakness playing either.”