Since UConn football moved up to the FBS in the early 2000’s, results on the field have been varied. The Huskies have, however, consistently been able to see players picked in the NFL Draft.
Since 2005, UConn has seen a player drafted in every year except 2006 and 2016. During that time, 25 Huskies have heard their name called, with two coming in the first round: Donald Brown in 2009 and Byron Jones in 2015, both at No. 27.
Obi Melifonwu hopes to join that club, and with the way his stock has been soaring, he could break the record.
The Grafton, Mass. native’s draft stock has been climbing since the season finale against Tulane, where he tied a school record with 24 tackles. He then played in the Senior Bowl where he impressed in the secondary at both safety and cornerback, showcasing his versatility.
Things really took off for Melifonwu at the NFL Combine. Much like his former teammate Byron Jones, Melifonwu blew scouts away with his numbers. He ran a 4.40 40-yard dash, 44.0-inch vertical and 141.0-inch broad jump, all top marks.
At his Pro Day in March, Melifonwu ran a 7.07 three-cone drill and 10.95 60-yard shuffle, the latter of which would have placed second at the combine.
With his impressive numbers at the combine, 19 teams have brought Melifonwu in for a visit to get a first-hand look, according to Walter Football.
The general consensus from mock drafts puts Melifonwu in the early-to-mid second round, with a few experts projecting him in the first round. In terms of the big board, he hovers around the early-30s to the mid-50’s for prospect rankings.
It would be hard to believe a team won’t fall in love with his athleticism and potential late in the first round. Most years, Melifonwu would be a lock to be a first rounder with his measurables, but this year’s class is deep at safety.
A team to watch will be the Seattle Seahawks, who hold the 26th pick. They have met with Melifonwu four times: The Senior Bowl, Combine, pro day and last week. His size fits the mold they look for in their secondary and Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor has been a common comparison for Obi.
Melifonwu likely won’t be the only Husky picked this weekend. UConn has four other players who have been highlighted as potential late-round picks: WR Noel Thomas, CB Jhavon Williams, OT Andreas Knappe, and DT Mikal Myers.
Thomas set a school record with 100 catches as a senior in the second-worst offense in the country. But his athletic measurables have prevented him from separating from the pack.
He ran a 4.63 in the 40-yard dash. Luckily, he did a better job at his pro day in front of a lot of scouts.
Even with the high level of production and reliable hands, scouts are concerned with his route running. Per NFL.com:
Thomas has pretty good NFL size, but his route running is poor allowing defensive backs to jump his routes far too often. Thomas' issues getting off of press coverage is a concern and he'll likely have to try and make the league as a big slot receiver.
A survey of draft rankings has Thomas graded somewhere between the 5th round and going undrafted.
Mikal Myers is a reliable high floor, low ceiling prospect that teams take fliers on in the late rounds. He’s a big-bodied nose tackle that can eat space and has been particularly proficient against the run.
Even with the league becoming increasingly more pass-happy, there’s still a place for a quality run-stuffer. Fox Sports’ Peter Schrager’s seven-round mock draft has the 49ers taking Myers in the fourth round, 143rd overall.
His situation is comparable to former UConn DT Shamar Stephen, a 7th round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. Stephen started all 16 games last year, recording 39 tackles without a single sack.
Sticking in the trenches, tackle Andreas Knappe could get a serious look—you can’t teach size. The former Danish archer stands a hulking 6-foot-8, 311 pounds but is still a bit raw, having only played organized football for a few years before coming to UConn. Still, he was the highest-rated tackle in the AAC by Pro Football Focus.
Interestingly, Knappe was the second-highest Husky on Mel Kiper’s big board, in the mid-200s.
In the world of spread offenses, finding quality, athletic offensive linemen is becoming increasingly more difficult for NFL teams. Combined with a weak offensive tackle class and a team could find Knappe’s size intriguing enough to justify a late-round pick in hopes of developing him into a swing tackle or starter.
Florida native Jhavon Williams played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman before locking down a starting cornerback job the next season.
He was a rock-solid starter for UConn playing in one of the game’s toughest positions. Williams deflected seven passes in each of his three seasons as a starter and finished his career with five interceptions and 174 tackles.
Playing alongside a handful of future NFL defensive backs in Byron Jones, Obi Melifonwu, and Andrew Adams, he knows what it takes to get there. Kiper has him ranked as the third-highest Husky on his big board, in the late-200s.