Melifonwu might serve as solution to Raiders' problem covering tight ends

Melifonwu might serve as solution to Raiders' problem covering tight ends

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have struggled mightily covering tight ends. It hasn’t been a one-year thing. They’re notorious for letting that position run rampant over the past four years, allowing talent ranging from Travis Kelce to Gary Barnidge to tally huge totals against the Silver and Black.

The Raiders may have found a solution to that problem Friday in the second round. They selected massive combine freak and Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu, a 6-foot-4 speedster who can match up well with most anyone.

“Look, this is no secret, we’ve struggled for the last couple of years covering the opponents’ tight ends,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We think this is a guy that can help out with his length, matchup against some of the bigger tight ends, some of the better tight ends. We’ll put him right in the mix.”

Del Rio can get creative with this kid. Melifonwu is a safety by trade, but can play cornerback – he proved that during Senior Bowl practices – and functions well from the slot. He can also play well in the box against the run game or deep in the pattern, providing versatility to the secondary.

The Raiders have incumbent starters at safety, with free safety Reggie Nelson and strong safety Karl Joseph. Nelson is 33 and entering a contract year, so Melifonwu could develop into a long-term partnership with Joseph, last year’s first-round pick.

Expect Melifonwu to help right away, especially against the recently bothersome tight end position.

“I feel like I’m a solid cover guy, especially versus tight ends,” Melifonwu said. “I feel like the majority of tight ends that I go up against I’m going to be faster than and really be able to cover them.”

The London, England native put on a show at the NFL scouting combine. He ran 40 yards in 4.40 seconds there, and did most every drill well.

“I think it did a lot for me,” Melifonwu said. “I think it showed my character, my poise and the ability to perform under pressure. And really the fact that not only am I an explosive player, I’m a player that has great hips and great range for somebody my size.”

Del Rio supported Melifonwu's solid game tape, which improved as his college career progressed. He finished with a career-high 118 tackles and four interceptions. He also had 2.5 tackles for a loss and three passes defensed. He accounts the improvement to improved football knowledge.

“Just having a better sense of the game of football,” Melifonwu said. “My defensive back coach Anthony Poindexter was a great college safety and a great NFL safety. He really did a great job of helping me fine tune things like run fits, formations and really keyed every week to watch and how to watch the game of football, how to study the game of football which in result, helped me have the season I had.”

Reports: Marshawn Lynch to remain with Raiders in 2018


Reports: Marshawn Lynch to remain with Raiders in 2018

The Raiders signed veteran running back Doug Martin on Thursday, prompting many to believe the move meant the end of Marshawn Lynch's time in Oakland.

But as it has been expected, Martin is just another piece to go along with Lynch in the Raiders' backfield. According to multiple national reports, Lynch will remain in Silver and Black this upcoming season. 

The news will become official when the Raiders pay Lynch his $1 million roster bonus on Sunday. 

“One of the reasons I’m excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch. We’ll see what happens," Jon Gruden told Insider Scott Bair at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We have to take a look at the entire roster, but I’m counting on him. I’m counting on him being a big part of this football team.”

Lynch, 31, rushed for 891 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, and scored seven touchdowns for the Raiders in 2017. 

New Raiders cornerback supremely confident, 'here to dominate the league'


New Raiders cornerback supremely confident, 'here to dominate the league'

Rashaan Melvin has the supreme confidence of a No. 1 cornerback, with none of the pedigree. Top cover men are often drafted high, paid well or both, with a steady ascent to elite status.

This undrafted talent bounced around the league without job security, trying and often failing to find NFL footing.

Melvin spent time with Tampa Bay, Miami, Baltimore, New England and Miami again before establishing himself in Indianapolis. The Colts gave him a real shot and he took advantage, evolving into the team’s top cornerback. Last year was Melvin’s best, but it didn’t provide a long-term contract despite a bull market for cover men.

Melvin signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Raiders on Friday, the type of prove-it deal that could establish a big payday down this time next year. The 28-year old doesn’t consider that pressure. Melvin knowns another big year's on the way, one that proves he's an elite cornerback

"I’m here to dominate the league," Melvin said Friday in a conference call. "It might be time for some new faces at the cornerback position. That’s my take on that. I’m excited for it.”

Melvin wouldn’t trade his long road for a conventional path, and believes experience both good and bad has prepared him for a pivotal season.

“I’ve been cut four times,” Melvin said. “I’ve been in four different locker rooms, and I was able to gain my teammates’ trust, my coaches’ trust and the organization’s trust as well. My confidence just grows over time. There are not a lot of players that can say they’ve been cut four times and end up in a situation where I’m at today. Like I said, it’s perfect timing. My work ethic, my style of play and the way I approach the game and the way I approach my job, my business, it speaks for itself.”

Melvin’s work ethic is unquestioned. His reputation as a grinder is well documented, especially after establishing himself in Indianapolis. Commitment to a craft has created a player with consistent coverage and ball skills.

Melvin was excellent last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Melvin created an incomplete pass (combining passes defensed and interceptions) on 23.6 percent of his targets.

Passers had a 60.3 passer rating against him in 2017, with just 29 completions for 328 yards on 55 targets. The passer rating was 86.6 in 2016, his only other season as a regular starter.

The Raiders need that type of player on the outside. They’ve had inconsistent cornerback play (that’s being kind) in recent seasons, and are hoping Melvin provides stability at a key position. The Northern Illinois alum has loftier aspirations, individually and as the leader of a young position group.

“The goal is to be the best player I can be, first-team All-Pro,” Melvin said. “I’m going to show my leadership, help these young guys out this year. They have tons of potential to be successful in their own careers. For me coming in here and being the leader and showing that, hey, this is what it takes to be successful in this football league, that’s what I’m willing to do. That’s what I’m willing to bring to the table. On the football field, but outside as well.”

Paying $6.5 million for all that would be a bargain. Melvin’s the key acquisition in a secondary built around 2016 first-round safety Karl Joseph and 2017 first-round cornerback Gareon Conley. This secondary can be solid if those guys can realize potential and Melvin’s a true No. 1 cornerback.

He considers that title appropriate, and is ready to show he’s more that a one-year wonder. The Raiders have great confidence in Melvin, something clear after targeting him early in the free-agent process. Financing’s always a big factor, but Friday’s meeting with head coach Jon Gruden, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and secondary coach Derrick Ansley convinced Melvin that Oakland’s a proper fit.

“I can relate to these guys,” Melvin said. “They have big plans for me, big plans for the organization. I was born to be a part of something special; that’s happening in Oakland. It was a good thing. We were able to get everything done, a deal done. I’m just excited to be here and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us as a team and me as a player.”