The Oakland Raiders spent the 56th-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Connecticut Safety Obi Melifonwu. Melifonwu, who posted one of the most impressive NFL Combines in recent memory, has potentially seen his tenure in the Bay Area end after just one season with the team.
Melifonwu's rookie season was marred with injury, as knee and hip injuries limited him to just five games played. The decision to cut Melifonwu is a stunning one, but consider that new (...yet also old?) head coach Jon Gruden is now calling the shots. With Gruden looking to form this roster in his own vision, the UConn product was apparently deemed disposable after his hip injury continued to pester throughout the winter and spring.
The battle for power in Oakland was certainly a factor in the Raiders cutting their losses, as was the injury issue. But this shouldn't mark the end of the road for Obi, who will now be exposed to waivers and likely pass through unclaimed.
That result would place Melifonwu back on the Raiders' injured reserve. Essentially Gruden and the Raiders are hoping someone liked Melifonwu so much just one year ago that they're willing to eat up his contract despite the fact that in all likelihood this is a player who won't see the field in 2018.
Should someone grab up Obi on waivers? To fully answer that question, one must look back to his profile as a player before the 2017 NFL Draft.
Full disclaimer: I was very, very high on Melifonwu prior to the 2017 NFL Draft and his metrics further enhanced his score to register him with a strong final evaluation.
Some prominent notes from Melifonwu's report and why he was considered such an intriguing prospect:
- Impressive ability to extend and play at the maximum reach of range.
- Can be utilized as a slot defender, robber, box safety, nickel linebacker.
- Highly versatile with zone capabilities in space and ability to aggressively and enthusiastically play the run.
- Has length to attack the ball early on at the catch point.
- Versatility and frame will put a lot of potential roles on the table and make him a valued prospect.
With a defender like this, scheme diversity and personnel flexibility stand out as key drivers that can be of use to defensive coordinators and coaches. Obviously, the lack of health has put a damper on that aspect of Obi's game and as such, the enthusiasm is gone.
But it's important to remember where this player stood when he was healthy. Melifonwu was one of the most explosive athletes of recent memory. At a legitimate 6-foot-4, Melifonwu was a top performer as a defensive back in the 40-yard dash (4.40 official), vertical jump (44.0") and broad jump (11'09"). And he did this at 224 pounds (his report references his Senior Bowl weight of 219 pounds).
At the Senior Bowl, Obi made himself a strong impression with his athleticism and versatility. Our very own Joe Marino had the opportunity to chat with Melifonwu.
A well spoken young man, Melifonwu took an additional 10 minutes speak with us off camera. He was sincere and enthusiastic about his experiences at the Senior Bowl and at Connecticut.
In all, this is a smart player with elite athletic traits and the kind of versatility that NFL teams crave as a back seven defender. Yes, he has nearly $2 million in guarantees remaining on his contract and won't be healthy enough to earn his dollars between the lines in 2018. That's disappointing, from the Raiders perspective as well as Melifonwu's. But Obi is also a ripe 24-years old and he will have every opportunity to re-write his story as an NFL player.
The next 24 hours will tell if he'll again get the chance to do so as an Oakland Raider or as a member of another team. Let's not throw in the towel just yet, even if the Raiders are hoping someone will catch the one they've just thrown into the crowd.