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Keep an eye on how Raiders deploy Obi Melifonwu against Dolphins

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A good performance by 2nd-round rookie Obi Melifonwu represents hope for the Raiders defense and eventually the end of Reggie Nelson.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders drafted freak athlete strong safety Obi Melifonwu in the second round to help out against the run and cover tight ends. As good as 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph is, the 5’10”, 205-pounder is no match for 6’5” TEs. So Melifonwu, at 6’4”, 225 pounds, can come in and help the Raiders against today’s athletic TEs.

During Senior Bowl Week, the former cornerback showed that he still has the feet and ability to flip his hips to stay with receivers. And at the combine, he flashed his 4.4 40-yard-dash speed. Given the Raiders health at the CB position right now, he could get used there tonight.

Make no mistake about it, the Raiders have big plans for Melifonwu. His combination of size, arm length and athleticism could make him a shutdown strong safety. He was also one of the surest tackling SS’s in this year’s draft. So the Raiders won’t miss the presence of Joseph in the box when they move him to free safety.

That’s the position where he had three interceptions in three games and a couple of snaps. The Raiders can use some interceptions as well as a FS that isn’t late to every deep ball, allowing it to be completed. Unfortunately, Melifonwu had a knee injury that prevented the Raiders from using him until he was activated from IR Saturday.

Tonight is a huge debut for Melifonwu because if he shows he’s ready and performs he instantly makes the defense better. Inside linebacker Navorro Bowman will be free to blitz more, something he does very well. He can also focus on the opposing running back and not get thrown off by play action.

But the best potential result of Melifonwu’s emergence would be moving Joseph to FS and Reggie Nelson out of the starting lineup. His late arrival on deep balls has made them much easier for opposing team’s to complete. When your CB’s aren’t the greatest, you need a great safety tandem to be on point and Melifonwu could join Joseph to give the Raiders that.

How Melifonwu performs tonight in Miami and how the Raiders use him could give us some indication of how soon that happens.