The Patriots looked to add some depth at safety by agreeing to terms with Obi Melifonwu, who was released by the Oakland Raiders last month.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Melifonwu, who starred at Grafton High, where he was a running back and defensive back and competed as a long jumper and triple jumper for the track team. He would go on to attend UConn, the only Division 1 school to offer him a scholarship.
In four seasons as a starter with the Huskies, Melifonwu made 351 tackles and recorded eight interceptions as well as 11 tackles for a loss. He was named to the All-AAC first-team after leading the Huskies with 118 tackles and four interceptions as a senior. Those were impressive numbers for a kid who grew up watching Patriots’ safeties Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison.
At 6 feet 4 inches and 224 pounds, he’s an even bigger version than either player, and heading into the draft, he believed he compared favorably to both.
“Those guys were more strong safeties,’’ Melifonwu told the New Orleans Advocate before the 2017 Draft. “I can play both, so I definitely see a little bit of their game in mine, but I’m definitely more versatile than that.’’
His full name is Henry William Obiajulu Melifonwu, pronounced Melon-FON-wuh. After he graduated with degrees in sociology and human development/family studies, he turned his attention to the draft.
He drew the attention of scouts with his performance at the 2017 NFL Combine, when he reached 11-9 in the broad jump, hit 44 in the vertical, and ran a 4.40 40-yard dash on his second try to vault up the draft board. He ended up being selected in the second round, 56th overall, by the Oakland Raiders.
“The NFL was somewhere I always wanted to go,’’ Melifonwu told the Hartford Courant in the days leading up to the draft. “My friends and my family knew it was something I could do. I just had to show everybody else. It feels really good. Everybody knows I can play multiple positions and help a team in a lot of ways.’’
Melifonwu has been plagued by injuries in his brief NFL career, appearing in just five games in his rookie season. He spent 10 weeks on injured reserve after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee. He also battled hamstring and hip injuries, and was waived by the Raiders in August, with the team hoping that another organization would claim him and his salary.
Melifonwu cleared waivers though, and returned to Oakland and was placed on injured reserve, when he was released by the team on Oct. 23. A number of teams had taken a look at him once he was released, including the New Orleans Saints, but it was the Patriots who were able to land his services. Melifonwu tweeted on Monday that he was grateful for the opportunity.
The Patriots are hoping they can tap into the athleticism that had scouts raving about his potential a little more than a year ago. They followed his college career closely, sending two scouts to UConn’s pro day and meeting with him at the Senior Bowl and Combine, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
“He’s a genetic freak. I thought his tape was really solid. What I like is he’s a matchup player,’’ said NFL Network’s Mike Mayock ahead of the draft. “His movement skills for his length, his ability to get in and out of breaks, his tackling, he’s got first-round talent all-day long.’’
Melifonwu moved with his family when he was 3 years old from London to the US.
He has a sister and three brothers, including his younger brother Ifeatu, who plays defensive back for Syracuse.