Is Obi the one? UConn safety Melifonwu could fit Bears in draft


Obi Melifonwu was the last person surprised by his ridiculous NFL Scouting Combine showing.

“Everybody knew I was athletic, but I don’t think they knew how athletic I was,” the UConn safety said Saturday. “When I went to the combine, I definitely had them check that off the box.”

He posted one of the great combine testings in recent memory. Melifonwu had the best broad jump and vertical leap of anyone, regardless of position. No safety ran faster than his 4.40 40-yard dash — and only seven other people at the event did.

His freakish athleticism — combined with a 6-4, 224-pound frame that evokes Kam Chancellor — vaulted the four-year starter up draft boards.

Connecticut’s Obi Melifonwu practices for the Senior Bowl. (AP)

But how far?

Melifonwu looks like a prototypical strong safety — he finished ninth in run-stop percentage last year, per Pro Football Focus, and had 118 tackles — but his length and coordination could make him much more.

When the Bears coached him at the Senior Bowl, Melifonwu, who had four interceptions as a senior, was a trendy pick to rise up the draft ranks. Two-and-a-half months later, he might be off the board when they draft in the second round.

“Going into the Senior Bowl, there was speculation — ‘Who is this guy? Who is this player?’” he said. “I think I answered some questions. Going into the combine there was also speculation — guys probably didn’t think I was going to do that well or test that well.”

Melifonwu was fond of the Bears coaching staff at the Senior Bowl — “Everybody was really hands-on,” he said — but was not one of the players invited for a private visit at Halas Hall. Still, if his all-star experience was any indicator, he thinks he’d be a good fit with the Bears.

“I think they would tailor their coaching to a specific player and put them in the right fit,” he said. “That’s what I liked about playing for them.”

Whether he’s an option depends on whether the Bears make LSU’s Jamal Adams or Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, the top two players at their position, the highest safety drafted since the Browns took Eric Turner second 26 years ago.

“When you talk about quarterback, defensive end, left tackle, those premier positions, if you’re going to take a safety over guys at those positions (early in the draft), he needs to be special,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “This year is unique in that Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams are special talents.”

After tying an NFL futility record by recording 11 takeaways last year, the Bears will look for safety help if they don’t get one in the first round. They signed Quintin Demps to a three-year deal, but the former Texans safety is no impediment to drafting a safety first.

“I think some of the acquisitions we’ve made this offseason already in free agency, we’ve addressed our secondary,” Fox said last month. “We hadn’t really done much from that standpoint prior to, whether it was in free agency or really currency in the draft.

“I think those are areas (are) where we’re not done yet. “

Position spotlight: Safety

Rating the Bears’ need: High

Under contract: Adrian Amos, Quintin Demps, Harold Jones-Quartey, Chris Prosinski, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Deiondre Hall

You should know …

The Bears desperately need a long-term solution at safety, and could draft one first.

They’re pursuing other avenues to better the position, too. Cornerback Deiondre Hall will likely try safety — where he played in college — during offseason activities.

“One of Deiondre’s best traits is his ball skills, his ball clock, the ability to time the pass breakup,” GM Ryan Pace said last month.

Kyle Fuller is “strictly a corner right now,” said Pace, who left the door open for a potential move.

Best of the best

LSU’s Jamal Adams, a physical presence, and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, a ballhawk, figure to be the first two drafted. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers is a do-everything return man, but recorded one college interception.

Connecticut’s Obi Melifonwu, Washington’s Budda Baker, Iowa’s Desmond King and N.C. State’s Josh Jones could all be gone by the end of the second round.

The quote

“You wish you could take a little bit from one and put it in the other. Then you’d have the perfect safety.”

— ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., on Adams and Hooker



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