This morning, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport put this tweet out into the Twittersphere:
A 2017 second-round pick of the Oakland Raiders, Melifonwu is an athletic freak, running a 4.40-second 40-yard dash with a 44-inch vertical and a 121-inch broad jump at the NFL combine. He was a four-year starter at UConn where he showed an ability to be a playmaker and a sure-tackler as both a deep and a box safety.
His time in the league has been riddled with injuries, going on IR early in September of last year. He was re-activated in early November. After a few weeks on Oakland’s active roster, Melifonwu had hip surgery and went back on IR in mid-December. This season, he was waived/injured on August 23rd, cleared waivers and was added to the team’s IR. He was officially released last week.
Melifonwu projects best as a box safety with good size and speed to cover tight ends and to fill gaps in the run game. He’s got a nose for the ball as a former cornerback, locating it well in the air and using his superior length for interceptions and pass breakups. He can play as a deep safety, but his football instincts aren’t always up to snuff, and he’s quite rigid when trying to turn to cover to the sidelines from a single-high position.
In Bob Sutton’s scheme, Melifonwu would fit, if healthy. The back-end of the Chiefs defense lacks some explosion, aggressiveness, and athleticism, all three things that Melifonwu had in spades at UConn. Oakland tried to use him in a hybrid cornerback/slot safety role in his snaps last year, which pitted him against some smaller, quicker receivers. That is not his forte. He’d fit better covering tight ends and filling gaps as an apex defender — something Sutton and the Chiefs implement with regularity.
What does this mean for the Chiefs safety group?
Despite a poor performance last week, Melifonwu doesn’t project to take Ron Parker’s role as more of a deep safety. Eric Murray and Jordan Lucas are currently the Chiefs’ best slot safety options, and both are key components of KC’s special teams group. Melifonwu would likely take a spot from Josh Shaw — a player that the Chiefs used specifically in man against tight ends — until Eric Berry or Dan Sorensen become active.
Unfortunately, Melifonwu is likely still returning from injury. Even if the Chiefs did make a move, it would be looking into future usage rather than expecting an immediate impact this week.
For a player with his athletic profile, he’s definitely worth kicking the tires on to see if the Chiefs can add some more size and speed in 2019 and beyond.