Lions close out Day 2 of draft with Syracuse CB Ifeatu Melifonwu
In a manner of speaking, the Detroit Lions still went big with their third and final pick on Day 2 of the NFL Draft on Friday. With the No. 101 selection in the third round, the team scooped up 6-foot-2 cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu out of Syracuse.
The addition of Melifonwu snapped a streak of three linemen to start the draft, but showed a continued premium general manager Brad Holmes is placing on size and athleticism with his first draft class.
At his pro day, Melifonwu ran a respectable 4.48-second 40-yard dash, but his explosive leaping ability stood out with a 41½-inch vertical.
"I feel like my size and athleticism definitely help a lot, just because I feel like I might be able to make up for things other corners can't," Melifonwu said on a conference call Friday. "It's always just a plus having athletic ability to go along with it, so I think that definitely helps me in a lot of areas."
Leaping ability runs in the family. Melifonwu's brother, Obi, posted a 44-inch vertical at the 2017 scouting combine, ahead of being selected in the second round of that year's draft.
"I remember when scouting his brother years ago, and he’s got the same physical specimen traits for a big, long corner that, from the outside, it looks like he’s just a press corner, but he’s actually not," Lions general manager Brad Holmes said. "How Iffy (Melifonwu) grew on me in the process is his ability to actually play in off-coverage and actually be able to maneuver, show quickness in a short area, in zone and off-coverage, which usually guys that long and that big aren’t able to do."
Melifonwu is coming off a season where he recorded 54 tackles, six pass breakups and an interception. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed 33 catches on 50 targets for 394 yards and two touchdowns.
It might be a struggle for Melifonwu to see the field on defense as a rookie. He's joining a room headed by last year's first-round pick, Jeff Okudah, and also returning 2020 starter Amani Oruwariye. The team also added Quinton Dunbar to the mix via free agency.
Okudah, Oruwariye and Melifonwu all have Nigerian roots. Defensive ends Romeo and Julian Okwara were also born in Nigeria, while second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike's parents are from the country.
The connection wasn't lost on Melifonwu.
"I knew that Jeff and Amani were also Nigerian," Melifonwu said. "I feel like Nigerians, even if we don’t know each other, we always have that connection with each other. Because we come from similar backgrounds, we kind of know how our parents act and everything like that. We come from the same culture, so I just feel like even though I haven’t met them, I have a deep-rooted connection with those two."