Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20 prospects in 20 days: UConn safety, Obi Melifonwu

The writing team of Steelers32 continues their highlighting of prospects by focusing on UConn safety, Obi Melifonwu.

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Nov 4, 2016; East Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies safety Obi Melifonwu (20) intercepts a pass intended for Temple Owls wide receiver Ventell Bryant (1) in the second quarter at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 4, 2016; East Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies safety Obi Melifonwu (20) intercepts a pass intended for Temple Owls wide receiver Ventell Bryant (1) in the second quarter at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Although the Steelers32 writing team has been working their way from the seventh-round selections to the first round talent, the team highlights a guy the Steelers have been linked to many times. Much like a fish with something shiny, it is extremely tough to not gravitate towards our next prospect from the University of Connecticut.

In year’s past, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were winning championships, they had a dominant safety. Troy Polamalu was a tropical storm in snowy Pittsburgh. His wavy black locks flowed around his helmet while he slammed ball carriers with hurricane-force impacts.

Since Polamalu’s retirement, it left a void in the secondary; a void that still remains. A future resident of Canton for sure, replacing Polamalu is not possible; however, Obi Melifonwu can step in and be a beast. 


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Steelers’ 20 prospects in 20 days: Pitt tight end, Scott Orndoff/Jackson State DE or LB, Javancy Jones /Villanova DE, Tanoh Kpassagnon/Colorado S, Tedric Thompson/Syracuse WR, Amba Etta-Tawo/Tennessee QB, Joshua Dobbs/California QB, Davis Webb


Although the Steelers have more glaring need, pundits have also been lured to the shiny new object by projecting the former Husky to the Steelers at 30th-overall.

Overview

Melifonwu red-shirted his 2012 season and has been a blue and white husky blur ever since. Playing in 48 games, Melifonwu has shown the ability to be everything the Steelers need him to be.

As a red-shirt freshman, Melifonwu compiled 70 tackles (second on the team), three for a loss, with two forced-fumbles and snatching two interceptions. His play earned him accolades for Freshman All-America Honorable Mention by scout.com. Melifonwu also made the 2013 American Athletic Conference All-Academic team.

As a sophomore, Melifonwu made 75 tackles (fourth on team), three-and-a-half for a loss, and three pass break-ups. 

As a junior, Melifonwu posted 88 tackles (third on the team), two for a loss, two interceptions and finished with five pass break-ups (second on team). Another season of solid production building on his foundation.

Melifonwu was a 12-game starter in 2016 while producing a monster season for the Huskies. His 128 tackles were a team high; adding four interceptions, two tackles for losses and a fumble-recovery. Melifonwu has been an absolute tackling machine and his production has increased every year he has played.

Melifonwu nearly set the single game tackle record for UConn against Tulane with 24 tackles on 11/26/16. Being named First-Team All-American Athletic Conference, All-ECAC and garnering All-New England Honors, Melifonwu is making quite the name for himself as he shoots up draft boards.

Measurables

Despite his accomplishments at school, Melifonwu was still a little-known player invited to the Senior Bowl. It would be the combine where Melifonwu would step forward and separate himself. He stands at six-foot-four, weighing 207 pounds and runs like the wind. His 4.43 forty speed has scouts, coaches, fans and analysts drooling.

While watching Melifonwu, ‘Primetime’ Deion Sanders himself said , “Look at the height of those knees. I can work with that.”

Proving his strength matches his incredibly powerful looking physique he pounded out 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench. As impressive as all that is, what is even more impressive is the strength his lower body possesses. An 11-foot-nine inch broad jump is a mere three inches off of the world record. Couple that with his 44” vertical leap and it’s clear Melifonwu has never skipped a leg day.

That type of range, along with Pogo-stick like legs helps Melifonwu get his hands on any ball thrown anywhere in his vicinity.

Strengths

  • Prototypical size
  • Elite speed for a safety
  • Smooth enough in coverage to play corner and both safety positions
  • Excellent tackler and box presence
  • Elite jumping ability and lower body strength
  • Good strength that will get better with NFL weight regimen
  • Can defend both larger receivers and pass catching tight ends
  • Quality instincts with the ball in the air and in the run game
  • Can play special teams; a real athletic freak

Weaknesses

  • Tackling technique elevated at times
  • A little raw, has yet to defend high-quality route combinations
  • Inconsistent in the high position
  • Slowness in reading plays
  • Gets beat on play-action too often
  • Although fast, his first step is slow or in wrong direction

Final thoughts

If his production on the field was not enough for everyone, Melifonwu’s NFL scouting combine workout, surely will be. If the euphemism “beast” was ever to be correctly used when talking about a prospect, now is that time.

Melifonwu is the type of chess piece every team needs. The rare complete safety, Melifonwu’s game is not without flaws. However, raw upside of this player is deliciously enticing to the Steeler’s front office. After the combine, the Steelers invited Melifonwu in for an official 30 private visit.

A player that can be positioned and moved all over the field, while defending every level is precisely what has been missing from the Steelers’ defense. Should the Steelers like what they see from “The Jedi Wolf” (my editors attempt at branding a nickname), they will have to spend their 30th pick in the draft on him.

Philip Robinson is a national content writer for cover32 and also covers the Pittsburgh Steelers. Follow P-Rob on Twitter @philiprrobinson

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