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Lions Ifeatu Melifonwu

Lions’ Ifeatu Melifonwu Facing Make-Or-Break Season In 2023

  • Justin Melo
  • July 18, 2023
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The Detroit Lions are aiming to field a much-improved secondary in 2023. One key contributor that could help bring that wish to fruition is safety Ifeatu Melifonwu. Melifonwu is entering a critical make-or-break campaign.

The No. 102 overall selection of the 2021 NFL Draft, Melifonwu initially joined the Lions as a cornerback out of Syracuse. Melifonwu’s traits leaned favorably to a potential transition to safety due to his ability to thrive as a positionless subpackage defender.

Melifonwu’s rookie season was unfortunately largely lost due to injury. A severe quad strain limited Melifonwu to seven regular-season appearances as a rookie in 2021. He recorded 15 total tackles and three pass breakups.

The following offseason, Melifonwu made a position change to strong safety. However, continued inconsistencies and recurring injuries hampered his acclimation. Hamstring and ankle ailments held the Boston, Massachusetts native to 10 games and one start in 2022. Additional reps were required to familiarize Melifonwu with his new responsibilities.

The early portion of the 2023 offseason has delivered hope for a change of fortune for Melifonwu. He was on the field for all three minicamp practices and often received first-team reps while veterans like C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Kerby Joseph watched from the sidelines. It was a refreshing sight for Lions head coach Dan Campbell.

“This is one of the few times that we’ve had him [Melifonwu] for a significant amount of time, consistently, consecutively, and so that in itself is paying dividends right now,” Campbell said during minicamp. “We see growth. He just needs time. He needs time on task, he needs reps, like a lot of young guys do.”

The Lions revamped their secondary this offseason after allowing a 30th-ranked 245.8 passing yards per contest and 25.1 points per game. In response, general manager Brad Holmes added Gardner-Johnson, Cam Sutton, and Emmanuel Moseley in unrestricted free agency. A healthy Melifonwu could still have a role to play.

That’s not to say the room isn’t getting crowded. Joseph and veteran mainstay Tracy Walker III are expected to start at safety. The ball-hawking Gardner-Johnson is a positionless talent that will roam the field as necessary. The Lions also drafted former Alabama safety Brian Branch with a second-round selection.

Melifonwu’s ability to float between outside corner and safety makes him a versatile chess piece. Whether playing deep as the last line of defense or closer to the line of scrimmage, Melifonwu could capture a role in subpackage approaches. The possibilities are endless for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who is tasked with placing his talented secondary defenders in advantageous positions. Melifonwu can make an impact if used correctly.

Injuries have stalled Melifonwu’s career, but don’t forget about the rare physical traits that made the Lions utilize a third-round pick on him. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Melifonwu was a rocked-up prospect that leaped 96th-percentile results in the vertical (41.5-inch) and broad jump (134 inches). Melifonwu was a big-time winner at the 2021 Senior Bowl.

The goal for Melifonwu is to maintain his current availability while developing into a more consistently impactful defender throughout his third campaign. Melifonwu has flashed game-changing abilities with rare size, length, and explosion when on the field. The 2023 season is truly make-or-break for Melifonwu.

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Justin Melo