Lions safety Ifeatu Melifonwu looking to build on last season's breakthrough

Ifeatu Melifonwu had a breakthrough late last season, and now he's got his eye on solidifying his place in the Lions' secondary.
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

For those who like to note, and remember, such things, Ifeatu Melifonwu will be remembered as the player selected with the first draft pick the Detroit Lions used from the Matthew Stafford trade.

Melifonwu's rookie season, at cornerback, was truncated by a stint on IR due to a quad injury as he played in just seven games. He made the switch to safety heading into his second season, then injuries (hamstring and ankle) limited him 10 games in 2022.

Last season, Melifonwu played well in a couple early season games when he had to take on a heavier load of defensive snaps. But then a hand issue limited him to special teams duty for a while, before he re-entered the starting lineup in Week 14. From there on, he didn't look back.

From Week 14 through the divisional round of the playoffs last year, Melifonwu was Pro Football Focus' seventh-highest graded safety. Overall for the season, Melifonwu was PFF's No.9 safety (regular and postseason) by overall grade (82.1) with top-notch marks all-around.

As noted by Jeremy Reisman of Pride of Detroit, if he'd had enough snaps to qualify, Melifonwu would have come in second behind Brian Branch in "impact play rate" among NFL defensive backs last season.

Ifeatu Melifonwu looking to solidify himself as key piece of Lions' secondary

Heading into his fourth season, Melifonwu is something of a veteran in the Detroit secondary. Among safeties on the roster, he's only behind C.J. Moore (entering his fifth year) in years of NFL experience.

After Wednesday's minicamp practice, via Nolan Bianchi of the Detroit News, Melifonwu talked about how last season's strong finish has propelled him right into this year.

"I feel like towards the end of the season, I was really comfortable, and I feel like that just carried over. If you asked me last OTAs compared to these OTAs, it’s a big difference. But end of last season kinda just carried over into this season,” Melifonwu said.
"I feel like it just slows things down mentally. You’re able to give checks quicker and get everyone lined up on the same page, instead of just thinking about what you have. So, I think that’s what helps.” 

Melifonwu also said he's embracing a leadership role in the Lions' secondary, and knowing how younger guys are "looking at me" keeps him on point.

Playing all 17 games last season was notable for Melifonwu. Being fully healthy without limitations all season is the next step for him, as he enters the final year of his rookie contract and tries to cement himself as a key piece of the Lions' defense for years to come. It seems OTAs were a good start to that, even if it's easy for him to say it's just a carryover from how he performed late last season.

Next. 5 Detroit Lions players who are next up for a contract extension. 5 Detroit Lions players who are next up for a contract extension. dark