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Falcons stop at UConn’s pro day to watch safety Obi Melifonwu

The hyper-athletic safety could be an option for the Falcons.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons have been focusing a lot of their due diligence for the upcoming draft on the positions you’d expect, which include edge rusher, defensive tackle, and positions along the offensive line. They’re (wisely) not limiting themselves to that, however, and that brings us to Obi Melifonwu.

If you were looking for a safety in this class who embodies what Dan Quinn is looking for in a defensive back, it might look like Melifonwu. He’s not the polished, hugely impactful defender Keanu Neal was a year ago, but he’s got tremendous length (6’4”, 32.5” arms), tremendous athleticism, a willingness to tackle, and the ability to create turnovers. Most of the criticisms you can lob at him have more to do with instinct and decision-making than any lack of ability, and if that sounds familiar, it’s because those were the concerns that dogged De’Vondre Campbell in last year’s class. If the Falcons really like Melifonwu, no one would be surprised.

The question is whether they’ll draft him. It’s possible that the UConn product could go before they even get on the board in the first round, but if he’s sitting there at #31 (or if he somehow slips down to #63), would the Falcons take him over a quality guard or intriguing edge rusher?

If you’re wondering why I took the time to write about Hugh Thornton this morning, it’s because of a scenario like this, where the Falcons look past the best guards in the class at #31 (or a top edge rusher) and snap up a player like Melifonwu or Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers to add athleticism and insane upside to the secondary. The conventional thinking is that the team’s remaining weaknesses are chiefly in the trenches, that Melifonwu and other safeties in this class would be an unnecessary upgrade on a very good Ricardo Allen, and that Melifonwu might be best suited for a strong safety role in Dan Quinn’s defense, where Keanu Neal is already excelling. I happen to agree with the idea that the Falcons won’t be in play on a defensive back in the first round, but when it comes to Dan Quinn and compelling safety prospects, I don’t think you can afford to rule that outcome out.

It’s not impossible, in other words, that Atlanta goes for young/budget options at guard, targets their preferred pass rusher in the second round, and winds up with Melifonwu. However slim the possibility, he’s a name to watch this April.