Ifeatu Melifonwu never quite got on track as a rookie, but could he move to safety and be an answer there for the Lions?
A third-round pick in 2021, Ifeatu Melifonwu quickly had a bit of notoriety as the first draft pick the Detroit Lions used from the return in the Matthew Stafford trade.
Melifonwu made his first NFL start last season in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers. But a thigh injury in that game landed him on IR, and after a one-game return he missed Week 14 and barely played in Week 15.
Then the Syracuse product started the final three games of the season, playing nearly every defensive snap over that stretch. All told he played in seven games as a rookie, with 15 total tackles, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
Competition for spots in the Lions’ secondary, this side of cornerback Amani Oruwariye and safety Tracy Walker, feels sure to be wide open heading toward Week 1. Enter Melifonwu.
Could Ifeatu Melifonwu become a viable option at safety for the Lions?
From Day 3 of OTAS on Thursday, those in attendance as media noted Melifonwu was seeing reps at safety. Per Tim Twentyman of the Lions’ website, teams talked to him about possibly playing safety in the NFL during the 2021 pre-draft process.
As for Thursday’s practice session, Melifonwu said Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn wanted to see him at safety along with any reps he saw at cornerback.
"AG (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) and the coaches just asked me to try it,” Melifonwu said after playing both safety and corner during Thursday’s open OTA practice. “I’m a football player, so they kind of want to put me at different spots and see what works and get versatility knowing the other positions just in case anything happens.”"
Melifonwu is big (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and fast (4.48-second 40-yard dash). In his last season at Syracuse (2020), he posted 54 total tackles with three tackles for loss and one sack. Over his three seasons for the Orange, he was credited with 19 pass breakups. That sounds like a skill set that could easily translate to safety, particularly in the split-safety scheme Glenn uses.
Melifonwu is broadly in a battle for a roster spot, so if he can play safety he could gain an edge as the defensive staff surveys its options. A full-blown position change doesn’t necessarily appear to be in the offing, but “the more you can do” fits the bill for the second-year corner.