Does anyone remember being a little kid and playing backyard football? Sometimes, there was a kid playing with you who was a few years older, and way bigger and faster than you, and dominated because of that. It wasn't really fair. That's sort of what it's like for anyone who plays against Obi Melifonwu.
One thing you may notice watching UConn games or Obi highlights is that you cannot miss Obi. There is no mistaking him. He's the biggest guy out there. He's the tallest and the fastest. When he plays the run, he goes directly to the football and takes down the ball carrier. When he plays the pass, he sticks on his man in coverage or plays an alert center field that enables him to use his superior physical gifts to dominate.
You may recall the last week this very blog had an article where the staff writers were to write about potential sleepers in the first round of the draft. Three of the four of us said Obi was a guy we'd consider in the first. And the Raiders got him in the second round.
Weight: 224 lbs.
40 time: 4.4
Arm length: 32.5"
Vertical Leap: 44"
Broad Jump: 11'9"
2013-2016: 349 tackles, 11 for loss; 6 INT, 2 FR, 16 passes defensed.
2015 All-AAC safety
Let's start with the measurables. Some of those combine results I listed up there are otherworldly. Obi's 40 time was the best this season by a safety. His vertical leap and broad jump were better than any other safety by an order of magnitude, and in those events Melifonwu is the top performer in recent history. See for yourself. This is a guy with elite physical traits and skills that cannot be taught.
Often in games, Melifonwu will appear to be lackadaisical with his running and his explosion. This is an optical illusion. Melifonwu is simply so large, and his strides so long, that he doesn't look like he's running hard even though he is the fastest guy on the field. Karl Joseph is the opposite of this- he's small so he always looks like he's going balls-out.
Obi's other main strength is his versatility. He looks as comfortable as a corner as he does a safety. In single coverage, he sticks to the hip of the receiver and when the ball is there he uses his long arms and ridiculously large frame to make a play on the ball. He does this with sheer physicality, not technique. UConn was hot garbage the last few years. Imagine what Obi would be like with Rod Woodson teaching him how to be a great safety? The sky is the limit. Even a little bit of technical improvement from Obi would have put him on the level of Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker in this draft.
As I just mentioned, his technique needs work. His feet don't always go where he wants them to, and he doesn't change direction as fast as you'd like to see. Gareon Conley has elite change of direction. He's a heat-seeking missile. Obi is more of a torpedo. He goes one way and hopes he hits something.
Obi's tackling is also a question mark. He often tries to drag his opponent down rugby style rather than charge and pop. That will never work in the NFL. Again, this is the opposite of Karl Joseph, who always drives right through the ball carrier fearlessly. Obi is considerably larger than Joseph and should be able to do the same thing. He needs to learn how to punish offensive players. Obi is a monster and he absolutely has to play like one or he will not reach his potential. A lot of people throw around Kam Chancellor as a comp for Obi, and it makes sense. Chancellor is 6'3" and 232 pounds, so he's roughly the same size as Obi. But Kam is a brutal hitter, and any pass-catcher knows that if they go near Kam he is going to level them. Obi must instill that same fear and trepidation in the hearts of his contemporaries.
What he brings to the Raiders:
Obi is one of the most elite athletes to enter the NFL in recent memory. He has Olympic-level measurables. There is no question that if the Raiders coaching staff helps him develop and reach his potential, he will be one of the very best safeties in football. He and Karl Joseph will turn a Raiders secondary which for so long has been sub-standard into the envy of the league.
Obi is big and tall enough to cover tight ends with success. When the Raiders meet the Patriots in the regular season and possibly the playoffs, Obi will be the key to slowing down their passing attack which favors tight end seams and wide receiver drag routes.
On a better team than UConn, Obi would have been a certain first-round pick. If he'd played for, say, Georgia he would have gone in the top 15. To get him in the second round is highway robbery.