With the multiple wide receiver sets NFL teams utilize, defenses have become more dependent upon their ‘sub’ packages. Defenses have used ‘nickel’ (typically 4 defensive linemen, 2 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs) and ‘dime’ (4 defensive linemen, one linebacker, and six defensive linemen) in passing situations for some time. While they started out as actual ‘sub’ packages, the pass based offenses of todays NFL have really turned them into a teams base defense. Two-thirds (66%) of all defensive plays in the NFL were run out of the ‘nickel’ package last season.
In 2015 the Arizona Cardinals created a new hybrid position in their ‘nickel’ package by replacing a linebacker with a safety. They called this new position ‘money backer’. As Ted Nguyen points out, this could be the role the Raiders envisioned when they drafted safety Obi Melifonwu out of UConn in the second round (56th overall) last April.
This 6-4, 224-pound athletic freak lit up the combine with a 4.4 forty time, a combine best 44” vertical, and the second longest broad jump in combine history at 11 feet 9 inches. He is what an NFL coach would build in a laboratory.
The first obvious benefit for the Raiders to move him to a linebacker spot is he was built to cover tight ends. Their struggle in this area in recent seasons has been well documented. Also with their lack of linebacker depth, the Raiders may find themselves with no other options.
The Cardinals used #20 Deone Bucannon as their money backer to great success. In the two seasons he has played essentially as a linebacker, he has recorded 154 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 interception, and recovered 3 fumbles. The Cardinals defense also ranked 8th in pass yards allowed in 2015, jumping to 4th in 2016.
Playing a safety at linebacker isn’t without drawbacks. Having a smaller player in the middle of the front seven can cause weaknesses in a teams run defense. An example of that is comes in this play were the center gets to Bucannon and blocks him out of the frame.
Obi would need some time in the strength and conditioning program before he would be physically capable of playing linebacker full time the way Bucannon does. He would most likely be used only in more obvious passing situations.
The coaching staff would also have to help Obi with his play recognition as he’d have to rely on it more playing closer to the line as Bucannon noted when he first made the switch.
“At safety, you have 10-15 yards and nobody’s going to touch you until you figure out what the play is,” Bucannon said. “Linebacker, sometimes you’ve got to guess and anticipate.”
The defensive alignments would have to take his presence into account. The defensive line would need to take up blocks to keep offensive line men off Obi and allow him to use his athleticism. Here #95 does a good job of taking on a double team from his 3 technique, (or getting away with defensive holding) allowing Bucannon to make a play on the running back.
Expect to see more teams using safeties in linebacker roles as the tight end has become a match up nightmare for NFL defenses. The ‘money backer’ looks to be the next evolution in NFL ‘sub’ packages and the Raiders may have found theirs in an athletic freak from Connecticut.
What role will Obi play this season?
This poll is closed
Starting linebacker (money backer)