The NFL’s Raiders are moving, and now safety Obi Melifonwu is likely to be moving with them.
Both cities will provide a new experience for the former UConn safety.
“I’ve never been to Oakland or Vegas,” Melifonwu said with a laugh after he was drafted by the Raiders Friday night in the second round of the NFL Draft.
Melifonwu was the 24th pick in the second round, No. 56 overall, and went to the Oakland, soon-to-be-Las-Vegas, Raiders.
“I definitely thought it was going to play out a differently,” Melifonwu said, obviously hoping and perhaps expecting he be selected earlier. “There were definitely times I thought I was going to be picked by a certain team.”
As for the Raiders, Melifonwu wasn’t expecting them to be the team that called his name. He went through a number of individual workouts for various NFL teams but the Raiders weren’t one of them.
“I was really shocked. After the Senior Bowl I didn’t hear anything from them,” Melifonwu said.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Melifonwu had a productive career at UConn but his performance at the NFL Combine opened a number of eyes around the league. He had a 44-inch vertical leap, leapt an amazing 11-feet, 9-inches in the broad jump, and ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash.
Melifonwu spent Friday night with his family in the Grafton, Massachusetts area watching the draft.
“My phone was buzzing before that because of twitter notifications and text messages when I got the call,” Melifonwu said. “My family was just ecstatic. It was a great moment.”
Melifonwu became the fifth UConn alum to be selected in the second round of the NFL’s entry draft.
There was some speculation that Melifonwu might be chosen in Thursday’s first round, perhaps becoming the highest UConn pick ever. But he was not selected on the draft’s first day and that Husky record remains shared by cornerback Byron Jones, who went to the Cowboys in 2015 at No. 27, and running back Donald Brown, who went to the Colts at No. 27 in 2009.
UConn has had four players drafted in the second round previously: Darius Butler, Will Beatty and Cody Brown in 2009, and Kendall Reyes in 2012.
UConn has seen 23 of its players selected in the draft in the last 10 years, including seven defensive backs. Melifonwu will join the likes of Jones, Butler, Tyvon Branch, Robert McClain, Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as DB’s from UConn to play in the NFL.
There is some speculation that Melifonwu might be moved to cornerback, but he certainly showed an ability to rack up tackles in college. He made 351 tackles at UConn including 24 in his final game, as well as seven interceptions.
“I’m open to anything they need but they haven’t given me any indication where they want me to play,” Melifonwu said of the Raiders.
A total of 19 defensive backs were selected in the first two rounds, a new record.
Three safeties were chosen in Thursday night’s first round. LSU’s Jamal Adams went to the Jets at No. 6, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker went to the Colts at No. 15, and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers went to the Browns at No. 25.
Then there was a run on safeties to start Friday’s second round. Washington’s Budda Baker went to the Cardinals at No. 36, Florida’s Marcus Maye went to the Jets at No. 39, Utah’s Marcus Williams went to the Saints at No. 42, and Texas A&M’s Justin Evans went to the Buccaneers at No. 50.
A few of Melifonwu’s teammates at UConn might yet hear their names called in the draft’s final rounds today. Wide receiver Noel Thomas, offensive tackle Andreas Knappe and nose tackle Mikal Myers are among those.
Newly re-hired UConn head coach Randy Edsall was not Melifonwu’s coach but has dealt with the Raider-to-be on a few occasions over the last few months.
“I think it’ll be great for him, great for the program,” Edsall said before Melifonwu was selected. “It’s easy to see the size, speed and athleticism that he has.”