Selection: Second round, No. 56 overall
The Raiders don’t have many safeties, a position group with Reggie Nelson, Karl Joseph and not much else.
They added a physical specimen in the second round, someone who can play aggressive near the line of scrimmage. Melifonwu stands 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, which gives him an advantage intercepting and breaking up passes.
This is an excellent value at this spot in the second round, and provides depth and competition at a key defensive spot. He can cover tight ends well without being a size mismatch, an asset the Raiders have lacked in recent seasons. He’s a hard-hitting tackler with breakneck speed. He ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine and jumped out of the building during agility drills.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said during the draft broadcast that Melifonwu can play press cornerback and linebacker in certain packages outside his natural safety spot. He has great range, helped by size and speed to cover miscalculations.
Analysts say he can be slow to diagnosis plays, but could be aided by veterans around him in the Raiders backfield. He also struggles at times as the last line of defense.
The Raiders have taken two defensive backs in as many selections, trying to fortify a pass defense ranked a disappointing 24th last season. They gave up too many big plays in the back, and the Raiders had drafted players who can shore up that deficiency.
General manager Reggie McKenzie prefers size in the secondary, and they got a player with great physical traits who can be developed into an even better player.
Incumbent members of the Raiders secondary should be on notice, with young bucks set to compete for significant playing time. It should be a deeper, tougher unit with Melifonwu and first-round pick Gareon Conley.
He impressed at the NFL scouting combine and the Senior Bowl, where he proved he compete with higher-level competition. If Melinfonwu and Conley make an immediate impact, the Raiders pass defense should be much improved.