Since being the first draft pick the Detroit Lions used from the Matthew Stafford trade, Ifeatu Melifonwu has battled injuries, switched positions and generally not gotten much traction. But, even as the Lions rebuilt their secondary this offseason, he knew he was at a pivotal point in his career entering his third season.
With C.J. Gardner-Johnson (torn pec) on IR and Kerby Joseph (hip) out in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons, the Lions had Tracy Walker and Melifonwu as their starting safeties. It became a statement outing for the Detroit defense after a poor outing against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2, and what Melifonwu did fell below the radar.
Melifonwu had three tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass breakup against the Falcons, which of course aren't huge, splashy stats overall. But he got the fourth-highest Pro Football Focus grade among Lions' defensive players (76.0), while playing 48 of 67 defensive snaps (72 percent).
Ifeatu Melifonwu had sneaky statement outing vs. Falcons
After the game, Melifonwu told John Maakaron of SI.com how good it felt to contribute to a resurgent effort from the Lions' defense.
"It felt good,” “I feel like I've gone through a lot here in Detroit, like with injuries and a position change. I've just been, I was itching to make plays on defense and add value to the team," Melifonwu said. "And, I've just been itching to do that. I feel like today, I got a chance to show that, and I did.”
Head coach Dan Campbell noted Melifonwu's performance against the Falcons on Monday, while noting he truly hasn't played a lot of safety since making the switch from cornerback.
"He did some really nice things. It was good to see him out there, make the plays that he made. Iffy’s a smart guy, it’s just about getting him on the field and keeping him out there, health-wise, "This is the most time we’ve had on him, consistently, to be able to bank those reps at the safety position, in particular. We thought he did a real nice job and the other thing, he played a physical game...."
If Joseph is able to play Thursday night against the Packers, Melifonwu will go back to the bench. But he showed what he can do with a bigger opportunity, and that is significant.