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Why CB Ifeatu Melifonwu Can Have Success Earlier Than Jeff Okudah

Ifeatu Melifonwu has potential to become a reliable defensive back in the National Football League.

Rookie cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu has the potential to become a superstar in the National Football League, according to ESPN analyst Louis Riddick. 

Riddick highlighted Melifonwu's skills to a national television audience during the draft. 

"It meant a lot. Just to hear someone say that about me. Someone high up like this. An analyst like that. I know what I can do," Melifonwu said after rookie minicamp. "The coaches here know what I could do. That's why they drafted me. I'm just looking forward to getting to work with them and then just reaching my highest potential."

For Detroit's secondary, adding a player with Melifonwu's potential can aid a secondary that is looking to take the next step forward in its collective development.

The Lions invested a high draft pick in Jeff Okudah in 2020, but it did not yield the returns that would have been expected for a player of his caliber. 

"No glimmer of hope can be redeemed from Okudah’s rookie year -- if that were the only sample I had to work with, I’d be conjuring optimism out of thin air," Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus explained. "However, we know Okudah was an elite college cornerback, and we also know that almost every rookie corner was routinely torched in 2020. The scheme Detroit employed also wasn’t helping anybody, so we have to assume that Okudah is better than the player we saw last season. How much better is the big unknown."

The ex-Buckeyes defensive back finished his rookie campaign with 47 tackles in nine appearances. He ranked 117th out of 124 qualified cornerbacks in the NFL last season, per PFF. 

Okudah and the new coaching staff are hoping that by being given new tools to operate with, the second-year cornerback can see improvements that carry over to the football field. 

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Okudah recently expressed, “Just sitting down with them (coaching staff) their first couple meetings, I was picking up so much that I thought to myself, ‘It would have been nice to have these tools in my toolbox my rookie year.'"

For Melifonwu, his athletic ability should allow for him to become more than just a prototypical "press corner" in Detroit's defensive scheme. 

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"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," Lions general manager Brad Holmes said. 

"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 after being drafted. "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."

Don't overthink

Melifonwu recently participated in Detroit's three-day rookie minicamp. 

Following the conclusion of minicamp, Detroit's first-year defensive back was asked what defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant has shared with him during early Zoom meetings. 

"One of the first things he told me was don't overthink," he said. "I'm first generation Nigerian. Parents were born in Nigeria. So, they ask a lot of us -- academically, physically, with our God-given ability. A lot of times we are overanalyzing and trying to be perfect and things like that. So, one of the biggest things he told me was just don't overthink." 

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