STORRS - It might not be to the point where, as Obi Melifonwu asserts, that UConn must now be referred to as “DBU”, but the Huskies have certainly sent a number of safeties and cornerbacks to the NFL in recent years.
And the latest product of “Defensive Backs University” is, like a few of his predecessors did, moving rapidly up many NFL teams’ draft boards as his freakishly athletic skills are put on display.
Melifonwu, the 6-foot-4, 224-pound, four-year starter for the Huskies, made waves at the NFL Combine earlier this month with a very impressive performance. And he only added to that impressive resume during UConn’s Pro Day Wednesday at the Shenkman Center on the school’s campus.
Even though the Huskies had an atrocious season in 2016, Melifonwu wasn’t worried that NFL player personnel folks would be scared away from selecting him.
“I feel like UConn is known for its DBs. We’ve got a great bunch of DBs in the league. Andrew Adams, Byron Jones, Darius Butler. I really wasn’t that concerned. At the end of the day the NFL is going to find players,” Melifonwu said.
It would obviously be hard to ignore Melifonwu’s feats of speed and agility, regardless of the Huskies’ recent record.
At the combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.4 seconds, had an outstanding 44-inch vertical leap, and covered an incredible 11-feet, 9-inches in the broad jump. Only Jones’ 2015 record leap of 12-3 was longer in the combine’s history.
“I wasn’t surprised. I see him all the time doing stuff like that. It’s phenomenal,” said wide receiver Noel Thomas, another former Husky who could hear his name called during the draft, which begins April 27.
Melifonwu was seen as perhaps a third- or fourth-round pick entering the combine, but now seems almost certainly to be selected in the first round.
“I think it helped tremendously. I think a lot of people knew coming in that I was going to do some great things and it was good to show them,” Melifonwu said.
On Wednesday, with 25 scouts representing 20 NFL teams on hand, Melifonwu did a few more great things.
He ran the short shuttle in 4.15 seconds, the long shuttle in 10.9 seconds and did the 3-cone drill in 7.06 seconds - all near elite-level times.
Melifonwu also performed a number of individual drills, under the guidance of Alan Williams, the Detroit Lions’ defensive backs coach.
“I just wanted to show that being a taller guy, I’m still smooth out of my breaks, that I can go up and catch the ball, high-point the ball, and on deep balls show that I have a little bit of range,” Melifonwu said.
Two scouts from the Patriots were on hand to watch Melifonwu, a native of Grafton, Massachusetts.
Melifonwu says he’s trying not to let all of the attention and possible windfall ahead go to his head.
“I’ve had fun with it. I just keep my head down and keep working,” Melifonwu said.
A safety for his college career, Melifonwu is projected as a cornerback by some NFL teams, though Melifonwu said Wednesday he doesn’t care much what specific position he plays in the pros.
He may be the marquee prospect among the departing Huskies, but Melifonwu wasn’t the only UConn player to help himself Wednesday.
Thomas bettered the disappointing 40-yard dash he ran at the Combine, finishing in 4.44 seconds.
“I feel like I got a little redemption in the 40-yard dash. I mean, I’ve never seen a 4.6 in my life,” said Thomas, who recorded a 4.63 in Indianapolis.
Linebacker Matt Walsh helped his chances of landing a job by doing 30 reps on the 225-pound bench press and seemingly performing well during his individual drills. Nose tackle Mikal Myers also was impressive on the bench press, producing 29 reps.
A number of former UConn players who went on to play in the NFL were on hand to watch, including Dan Orlovsky, Andrew Adams and Geremy Davis.
“There’s a lot of pressure on them,” Orlovsky admitted.
Though newly re-hired UConn football coach Randy Edsall didn’t coach any of the players who worked out Wednesday, he was on hand for the event to offer encouragement.
The coach said he was proud of UConn’s growing reputation as a producer of NFL talent.
“I think people have a lot of respect for the program,” Edsall said. “That’s what we want to do, develop our kids and give them the opportunity to play in the NFL.”