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

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

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

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

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

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

But how far?

Melifonwu looks like a prototypical strong safety. He finished ninth in run-stop percentage last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and had 118 tackles and four interceptions. But his length and coordination could make him much more.

When the Bears coached him at the Senior Bowl, Melifonwu was a trendy pick to rise up draft boards. Two and a half months later, he might be off the board when the Bears pick 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 he was not one of the players invited for a private visit at Halas Hall. Still, if his Senior Bowl experience was any indication, 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 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 record for futility with only 11 takeaways last season, the Bears need help at safety. They signed safety Quintin Demps to a three-year deal, but the former Texan 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 in the draft. I think those are areas where we’re not done yet.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.


Bearspositionspotlight: Safety

Rating 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 they might draft one first.

They’re pursuing other avenues to improve the position, too. Cornerback Hall likely will 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,” general manager 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 safeties drafted. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers is a do-everything return man, but he recorded one interception in college.

Connecticut’s Obi Melifonwu, Washington’s Budda Baker, Iowa’s Desmond King and North Carolina State’s Josh Jones could 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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