After an eye-opening combine last year, many thought that former UConn safety Obi Melifonwu warranted a first-round pick based on sheer athleticism alone. Now, Melifonwu finds himself without a team just weeks before this year’s NFL season kicks off.
Melifonwu, selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, was waived by the Oakland Raiders on Thursday after an injury-plagued season with the team. Melifonwu appeared in just five games, including one start, recording seven total tackles and no interceptions. He was significantly hampered by leg and hip injuries throughout the season.
The move was made alongside the signing of former Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, suggesting that the Raiders were interested in adding some veteran leadership as opposed to relying on an oft-injured work in progress. Melifonwu also reportedly suffered another lower body injury in camp last week, though the severity is unknown.
In his final season at UConn, Melifonwu led the team in tackles and interceptions. Oakland selected him with the 56th pick, becoming the fifth player in UConn history to be selected in the second round of the draft. He remained on the board for longer than most thought, and perhaps we’re starting to see why.
Melifonwu is a freak athlete, with great size, speed, and leaping ability for the safety position. But he’s always drawn concern in terms of coverage ability, and with the injuries piling up after just one season, teams must wonder if he’ll be able to stay healthy for a whole season.
Perhaps most concerningly, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Twitter that the Raiders “never quite felt he loved football enough.” Not a great reputation for a guy who’ll have to work hard to get back to full health.
The good news for Melifonwu is that NFL teams can always use depth in the secondary, so an athletic safety probably won’t stay available for long. Obi can currently be claimed on waivers by any team. If unclaimed by the end of the waiver period, he’ll head to the Raiders’ injured reserve.
It’s been a rocky start to Obi’s NFL career, but at 24 years old, he’s got plenty of time to turn things around. No matter what uniform we see him in this year, let’s hope he stays healthy enough to prove himself on the field.