Gotta say, folks, this method of acquiring second-round defensive backs is way, way more fun and cool than actually, you know, spending our own second-round picks on them.
Call it classic Belichick or your dad cruising the yard sales on Saturday mornings (or was that just my dad?), acquiring talented players that burned out of their previous teams for whatever reason and giving them the keys to do what they’re actually good at - novel concept, I know - is half the reason this dynasty keeps sailing on. “Hey, what can you do? Sweet. Go do that at a high level, plz. Good talk.” Why, it’s enough to make you wonder why some more teams don’t do it!
Meanwhile, after former UConn football star (not a punchline) Obi Melifonwu signed with New England a few weeks ago, he finally hit the field on defense and special teams, and if you’ve ever called the “MAN UP: 3 DEEP” play in Madden, you know that it’s extremely unusual to see 4 safeties all on the field at the same time in non-Hail-Mary-prevent-defense situations. If there’s anyone that can make it work, though, it’s the team that won a playoff game playing a 4-man offensive line (not to brag), sooooooo here we are! What’s up Obi?
First time we've seen this look from the Patriots this season. Quarter defense with three CBs and four safeties. Having a guy like Obi Melifonwu in the mix opens up some new possibilities. pic.twitter.com/AgqDb8zy2r— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) November 26, 2018
Patriots using four safeties - McCourty, Chung, Harmon and Melifonwu - multiple times on the opening drive— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) November 25, 2018
Over the past couple years, the Patriots had deployed a “big nickel” package that swapped out a corner for a safety and put Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon on the field with 2 cornerbacks so that Belichick could - wait for it - put his best defenders on the field together. What makes this particularly interesting is we all know how McCourty and Chung are Swiss Army Knives and play all over the field, but in this case, Obi wasn’t just playing deep because he’s tall (did you hear that he’s tall? He’s pretty tall! I feel like people are saying he’s tall!) - as our pal Evan Lazar at CLNS noted, Melifonwu was playing a more Chung-esque role near the line of scrimmage over the tight end.
To be fair, Belichick’s done that with a few players in recent memory - specifically, when Aqib Talib ruined 59 minutes and 59 seconds of Jimmy Graham’s day in 2013, and in ‘14 when Brandon Browner played tight on then-Colts tight end Coby Fleener. Patrick Chung’s had better luck than your average safety covering tight ends (note: it’s not luck), but if the league is going to keep leaning into more college-style offenses, and therefore more college-style tight ends (read: jumbo receivers), a player like Melifonwu that’s big enough, smart enough, and quick enough to hang with the tight ends could be quite the new-school weapon.
And in the Patriots’ effort to fix the busted Camaro that is New England’s special teams, Obi’s already chipping in there as well: with his 4.40 speed, he logged 17 snaps on special teams in the kicking game and delivered one (1) tackle, which is more than a lot of Patriots special teamers can say lately.
The best part? The kid that grew up down the road in Grafton, MA is having a blast doing it.
From the Providence Journal:
“It felt amazing to strap up the shoulder pads, put on No. 22, put on the Patriots helmet and just be out here with my teammates,” Melifonwu said. “Wearing the logo, it’s something that’s special.”
“I think it’s going real well. It’s something that I’m spending a lot of time on, extra time, whether it be with Steve [Belichick] or the other players. Just trying to digest the system and learn as much as I can and know where they’re going to contribute to playing.”
Good thing the coaching staff seems to think he’s ready to let it rip, too, cause if Obi’s going to continue in this role, it’s just in time for Kyle Rudolph to roll into town on Sunday.