Raiders rookie safety Obi Melifonwu isn’t interested in just watching and learning in 2017.
He wants to start making plays as soon as possible.
This week, when Melifonwu was interviewed on the NFL Network, the second-round pick from Connecticut sounded eager for training camp to begin later this month. He said he has specific goals, too.
“Get on the field, make a big impact on special teams,” he said. “I think that’s underrated in terms of the three phases. And then I set the bar high for myself, so definitely Defensive Rookie of the Year.”
Going into training camp, however, the depth chart may make it hard for Melifonwu to win such an award. Melifonwu would have to unseat Pro Bowler Reggie Nelson as the starter at free safety. The starting safety tandem of Nelson and strong safety Karl Joseph appears strong.
Still, Melifonwu could find his way into the lineup in special situations, especially as a defender against opposing tight ends, a weak spot of Raiders pass coverage in recent seasons.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said after the draft that he sees Melifonwu being a versatile player. As a senior at UConn, the 6-foot-4, 224-pound Melifonwu was in on 118 tackles with four interceptions.
“He’s going to fit in multiple ways, but the bottom line is he’s a really good safety who has good tackling skills, good cover skills and we all know about his range with his speed and what have you,” McKenzie said recently. “And, he’s a smart player. He has a lot of positive traits that you can really do a lot of things with him. We’ll get him acclimated with the system and then we’ll figure out how to place him in certain positions to help us win on defense.”
Melifonwu said he’s watched and studied various NFL standout safeties and admires the play of Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor and free safety Earl Thomas, among many, and would like to incorporate “pieces of every single one of them” into the way he plays.
Still, he has his own style of play.
“I want to add my own element,” he said