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NFL Draft: Obi Melifonwu Slays the Combine

UConn’s safety prospect displayed elite athleticism in the NFL’s annual evaluation summit.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-North Practice Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

In what is hopefully becoming a tradition, a UConn defensive back is steadily rising up draft boards across the pre-draft process. Obi Melifonwu followed a very productive final season for the Huskies with a standout performance at the Senior Bowl and has now ignited his stock by posting world-class numbers at the NFL Combine.

He ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, tied for 8th-best in the field, which is insane for a 6-foot-4, 224-pound safety. His movement and smoothness in drills have led to talk he may end up playing cornerback, which should be a terrifying prospect for NFL wide receivers.

Melifonwu broad jumped 11 feet, 9 inches and notched a 44-inch vertical leap, both combine highs. His broad jump was the second-highest at the combine since 2003, bested only by his former teammate, Byron Jones—a 2015 first-round pick by the Cowboys.

There is a lot for scouts to like about the Massachusetts native beyond his unbelievable athleticism. He made 118 tackles and four interceptions in a senior year which he earned AAC All-First Team honors. He was a multiple time conference All-Academic selection as well and a productive player for four years after redshirting.

From Obi’s NFL.com Scouting Profile:

“Elite size with premium athletic traits... Sharp focus when ball is in the air. Takes path to the ball with undercut of the route at the last second. Plus hand-eye coordination to flip the field with interceptions. Former cornerback who has the athleticism to cover matchup tight ends and some big slots. Uses big frame to body-up seam-runners and constrict their windows. Downhill tackling machine. Plus range with a wide net to bring runners down once he gets his arms into them. Body-up hitter. Drastically reduced penalties totals over junior and senior season.”

Wide receiver Noel Thomas also attended the combine. He ran a 4.63 40, put up nine bench press reps, and average numbers in the vertical and broad jump. His athleticism was never going to wow scouts, but he could have used a slightly better performance, especially in the 40. The Norwalk, Conn. native will have a chance to do so at UConn’s Pro Day.

Thomas’s measurables may not stand out, but his ball skills and playmaking ability still bring a lot to the table. At the moment, he’s considered a late-round prospect. His NFL.com profile notes many strengths, which is why he’ll get his chance one way or another.

“Displays some early speed in his get-off against off-man coverage. Has experience lining up inside and outside. At his best working in the seam and over the middle from the slot. Ball skills can be impressive... The more challenging the catch, the more elevated the ball skills become. Despite slightly shorter arms, gets every inch of extension from them when pulling in the high throw or diving for a deep pass... Has some "yards after catch" talent down when he's allowed to stride in open space.”

Andreas Knappe, Bobby Puyol, and Mikal Myers are among the other 2016 seniors who will be trying their hand at a shot in the pros. They weren’t invited to the combine, but will also be looking to make their case at UConn Pro Day on the morning of March 21st.